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Punjab’s narco terror: Booming business of pvt rehabs run by ex-addicts

After every crackdown on the drug menace, windfall at private rehab centres, yet no takers for those run by government

punjab Updated: May 02, 2017 18:02 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Addicts undergoing treatment playing carrom at the Growth Foundation centre in Ludhiana.
Addicts undergoing treatment playing carrom at the Growth Foundation centre in Ludhiana.(Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)

“You have to be a drug addict to know the mind of a drug addict.” The words of Amanjeet Singh ring true as private rehab centres run by former addicts have proliferated in Punjab.

A hockey player in his college days, Amanjeet got hooked to smack in the company of friends and had to undergo rehab at Kharar in Mohali. Now, he runs a private rehab centre, Growth Foundation, in Ludhiana. He is also the president of Punjab State Drug Counselling and Rehabilitation Centres’ Union.

HIGH CHARGES AND FACILITIES

The Growth Foundation charges Rs 20,000 for the first month and Rs 15,000 for every subsequent month to wean addicts off drugs. Amanjeet claims the money takes care of food, lodging, sports and gym facilities. For the high charges, he blames the strict guidelines for private centres. “We have to follow the guidelines set by the Punjab and Haryana high court. We have an ambulance, cook, two kitchen helps and a counsellor with masters in social work degree for every 10 patients,” he says. Presently, his 35-bed rehab centre has 25 inmates.

On the outskirts of Rampura Phul, a nondescript town in Bathinda district, a palatial house with yellow flags stands out. Guarded by a German Shepherd and an Anatolian Shepherd, it is from where Adarsh Foundation, an offshoot of an NGO by the same name in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, is running a rehab centre since 2010. The family of its 33-year-old owner Anurag Dwivedi still lives in Varanasi.

Dwivedi himself took to smack in 1997 in Varanasi and went to a rehab centre. “After I came back, I decided to help to other addicts,” he says. He charges Rs 15,000 for first month and Rs 10,000 for subsequent months from families of addicts. “Only those addicts come to the private centres who can afford the treatment,” he says.

The government-run rehabilitation centre in Bathinda wearing a deserted look. (Anil Dayal/HT Photo)

COUNSELLING CLASSES

Though he cannot speak in Punjabi, Dwivedi makes do with a former inmate and is now qualified enough to take counselling classes at the basement — its walls full of inspirational quotes on shunning drugs. Among the 25 inmates at his centre, the youngest is a Class-10 student from Bathinda who took to “chitta” (heroin) with friends. “I stayed with the older boys in the school. We went to Mullanpur in Ludhiana to buy heroin. I used to buy mobile phones and sell them at high price to be able to buy 10 grams of heroin for Rs 2,500 a gram. Soon, I became a courier. I had chitta in the morning and Corex syrup in the afternoon. I have given hell to my parents and two sisters. I want to leave drugs and appear for my Class-12 exams,” he said.

People attending a session at Adarsh Foundation Drug Counseling and Rehabilitation Centre at Rampura Phul, Bathinda. (Anil Dayal/HT Photo)

Rajat Sood, who runs New Life Rehab and Counselling Society at Phillaur, too had stayed at a rehab for 13 months before his heroin addiction could be cured. His centre with 35 beds presently has 24 inmates. Rajat charges Rs 18,000 for the first month and Rs 10,000 in the subsequent months. “At de-addiction centres, they put addicts on drugs such as Buprenorphine for long periods of time. It also has withdrawal symptoms. So from one addiction, they put them on another. We wean them away through sports and counselling,” he says.

BRISK BUSINESS FOR PVT CENTRES

The business model for the mushrooming private de-addiction and rehab centres is simple. Private psychiatrists running de-addiction centres refer patients to the rehab centres and vice versa. The business gets brisk every time the state government launches an open crackdown on drugs.

But Amanjeet denies private centres are reaping a windfall out of state’s drug problem. “It’s not just a business interest. There is also social interest involved. Drug addicts start losing feelings, sense of spirituality, guilt or introspection. Having been through that journey, we understand their psyche and counsel them through our own life experiences,” he says.

As president of the union, he claims it is not easy to run private rehabs. “We are bombarded by inspection teams of the health department, court and our licences are not renewed for years. As many as 40 licences are pending with the health department. We are also coerced by the police to share contact details of our patients. The day we shut shop, the situation in Punjab will get worse. Government rehabs are run by employees with no personal commitment. Parents do not trust leaving their sons there as drugs can be sneaked in for a tip by the guards,” he says.

TALES OF HORROR

But private rehabs have their own tales of horror. A 28-year-old youth from Gobindpura village in Bathinda admitted at the de-addiction centre of government civil hospital in Bathinda last week said he had lost his job with a company running water treatment plants in villages after he had started injecting two grams of heroin per day. “I went to the Adarsh Foundation’s rehab centre for five months last year. I have developed a disc problem after the frequent beatings,” he said.

Another 27-year-old, also a heroin addict, went to a private rehab at Baghapurana in Moga. “I was there for six months. We were not allowed to meet our parents and we were beaten with belts if we complained of withdrawal symptoms. Once they had tied cloth on our mouths and put loud music on while beating us. But even our families were not too keen to take us back,” he said.

NO PATIENTS AT GOVT CENTRES

Yet the government rehabs do not get patients. The plush 50-bed government rehab centre on the outskirts of Bathinda town wears a haunted look. It has three counsellors, four security guards and just five patients on March 25, when HT team visited the centre. With a gym, LCD, basketball and badminton courts, it charges just Rs 50 a day. “The government de-addiction centre at Bathinda refers patients to us. We cannot force patients to stay against their wishes. Some leave when their parents come to visit, some even try to run away,” said one of the counsellors there.

NOT ALL FORMER ADDICTS HAVE SET UP SHOPS

Some like Gurdeep Singh, who got addicted to smack as early as in Class 7 at Ferozepur, are now working as volunteers for Narcotics Anonymous. The special task force on drugs set up by Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh too wants to rope in Narcotics Anonymous. But Gurdeep Singh says they cannot compromise on the clause of confidentiality. “I too went to a rehab at Muktsar to cure my smack addiction. Addicts want to share their success stories as well as failures only with addicts. The government wants us to hold meetings at every village. We are too small in numbers to do so. But we can help them create awareness through posters and pamphlets. We cannot allow any outsider to be a part of the meetings. Only an addict can understand what he has lost,” he said.

Also read | For families of ‘addicts’, CCTVs new weapon in Punjab’s war on drugs