Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday claimed that “out of the total 2.77 crore population in the state, only 0.06% were found using drugs”, citing “a study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi”. That essentially means 16,000 people.
The study, however, puts the figures much higher, and Sukhbir has again been caught on the wrong foot in his attempt to underplay Punjab’s drug abuse problem. Ironically, Sukhbir mentioned how Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had “maligned” the state by claiming 70% addiction in Punjab in 2012. Rahul’s comment, too, was a misreading of an earlier survey in his overblown hurry to earn political brownie points.
Cited by Sukhbir, the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS) was actually commissioned by the Centre and conducted in February-April 2015 by NGO Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) and AIIMS experts. It says there are 2.32 lakh “drug dependents” in Punjab. This, by basic math, means 0.84% of the state’s total population. First, the logic of the AIIMS study. As explained by its principal investigator Dr Atul Ambekar of AIIMS, this study considered “only adults”. Punjab, as per the census, has nearly 1.9 crore persons aged 18 or above. This means 1.2% of the adult population is addicted to drugs. And these are just dependence figures, that is, only the number of ‘addicts’. As for ‘users’, the AIIMS survey estimates the number to be 8.6 lakh — which means 4.5% of all of Punjab’s adult population has at least ‘used’ drugs.
As for the world figure of 0.2%, based on UN figures as published in a study in ‘Addiction’, the world’s top journal in the field. It considers people aged 15-64 only. Punjab’s population in that bracket is 1.8 crore. If, therefore, you divide the number of addicts with that, the drug addiction rate in Punjab again comes out to be 1.2%. That is six times the world average.
The corresponding figure for India is 0.7%, which means Punjab’s drug abuse figure is nearly twice the national number. A national survey last came out in 2004, and this Punjab survey is in fact a pilot exercise to gather fresh national data, as per an affidavit submitted by the Centre in the Delhi high court.
“These are dangerous figures,” Dr Ambekar told HT over phone from Delhi. He added even more perspective: “Our study, in fact, found that 99% of the addicts are male. If one were to consider the survey total by that logic, the figures are double of what they appear to be.”
HT busted the 70% myth
Sukhbir has done a Rahul, only the other way around! While Sukhbir Badal is now misreading a survey to downplay the problem, the 70% figure about addiction extent in Punjab was also a hyperbolic misreading of a 2006 survey by Rahul not actually study the general population; but only a sample of 600 known addicts from four districts. The aim was to understand the trend ‘within the addiction circles’; and we found that 73.5% of all drug addicts fall in the 16-40 age group. That’s all. It was not about how many addicts are there out of the total population.” “Irrespective of my report, the drug problem must be acknowledged first. They (government) don’t think it’s a problem,” he had remarked.