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Punjab drug menace grips women: Homemakers to nurses struggle to kick habit

From facing sexual abuse to becoming couriers, the menace of drug abuse has not missed Punjab’s women. De-addiction centres are also getting cases of couples seeking help

punjab Updated: Jul 09, 2017 11:50 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Amritsar/Bathinda
Among those visiting de-addiction centres and rehabs after the government crackdown on drugs are also women — homemakers, students, nurses, orchestra dancers and sex workers.(Gurpreet Singh/HT Photo)

She used to help patients as a nurse. Now Madhu from Ludhiana is under treatment at the drug de-addiction centre of Max Hospital in Bathinda, the state’s first private hospital to open one.

Discovering symptoms of heroin addiction was not difficult for her husband, a drug addict himself. But what was difficult for him was to accept that it was not just the prerogative of the “men of the house”. “Ek aurat kaise yeh kar sakti hai (how can a woman do something like this),” he asked Dr Satish Thapar, head of psychiatry and the de-addiction centre at Max.

Madhu, who is in her early 30s, started with stealing small amounts of heroin from her husband’s packets when he would be away. They are now together undergoing treatment at the centre with weekly visits.

Madhu is not the only woman caught in the vortex of drug menace. She, in fact, grimly exemplifies how Punjab’s drug menace is a half-told story. It’s been mostly about the men. Among those visiting de-addiction centres and rehabs after the government crackdown on drugs are also women — homemakers, students, nurses, orchestra dancers and sex workers.


At the Hermitage, an all-women rehab in Amritsar, a petite 34-year-old Harpreet could well be mistaken for a college student. Until she tells you it has been a journey through hell. She got hooked to drugs after a love marriage went wrong. Her husband, an alcoholic, would get physically abusive and Harpreet became dependent on tranquillisers and anti-depressants.

A mother of two, both in their teens, she did not realise when her dependence on sedatives became chronic and she took to narcotic drugs. “Those six months were like a nightmare. But I was a mother and came out of it sooner than my husband, who is still under treatment,” she says.

The journey has made her a healer too. She now spends six hours a day at the rehab, counselling other women addicts, then comes back home to be with a husband. “It’s still an everyday struggle to see an addict at home, but the couple therapy has saved our 16-year-long marriage,” she adds.

Doctors say it is not uncommon for women to get addicted to drugs due to the frustration of dealing with an addict husband and in-house availability of drugs such as heroin.

Dr Thapar claims that out of 100 cases of drug abuse, nearly 40 are of couples. “It is now common among young couples as women become a source of procurement for men who are already addicts. It is a vicious cycle. Many women who are now couriers start as victims of sexual abuse,” he says.


Punjab has in recent years seen a rise in the cases registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Pscyhotropic Substances (NDPS) Act against women. Both police and psychiatrists attribute the trend to the use of girls and women for peddling to avoid suspicion. Many turn addicts.

The most vulnerable are those from poor socio-economic strata and the entertainment industry such as orchestra singers and dancers.”And since their addiction is linked to the company they keep, their rehabilitation is most difficult,” says Dr Thapar.

Amritsar-based psychiatrist JPS Bhatia sees women addicts as more vulnerable as they are dependent on men for supply.”A gram of heroin costs anything between Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,000. Those from affluent families can afford it. Others depend on men for supply and are soft targets for sexual exploitation and peddling.”

But the class divide is no hindrance. The quick buck and glamour of film industry too make some an easy prey. A Punjabi actor came all the way from Mumbai to Max’s Bathinda centre for treatment.


What’s worrying doctors more is that drugs are catching even students. For Jalandhar’s Sakshi, an 18-year-old medical student, it all started with a phone call to a number she found on YouTube. “As an only child, I had no company. I was curious to know what it was like to get a high. I googled and found an advertisement. The number turned out to be of my batchmate from Class 8,” she says, sitting in her room at The Hermitage.

“I started with ordering 10 grams of heroin. It became 20 grams within three months. I lost all inhibitions and got involved with him as I was dependent on him for supply of drugs,” she reveals.

Her parents discovered her addiction when she got admitted to a hospital after an accident. “They are now helping me get out of it. I made quite a mess of my life at an early stage,” she says.

But not all girls can count on their parents for support. Amritsar’s Lavanya, 16, did not seek help for her addiction for months. She now comes for counselling to an all-women rehab but without knowledge of her mother. “If I tell her, she will keep worrying that I won’t get married if people find out about my addiction,” she says, wryly.

(Names of the women quoted have been changed to protect their identity).

First Published: Jul 09, 2017 09:21 IST