Punjab to take Aadhaar details, fingerprints of drug addicts

Heath dept says move will check addicts enrolling at multiple centres for medicine, psychiatrists warn breach of secrecy may discourage them from seeking treatment

punjab Updated: Jul 25, 2018 10:29 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
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(Representative Image)

As it fights political notoriety after a spate of “drug overdose” deaths, Punjab’s Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh has now decided to capture Aadhaar details and fingerprints of drug dependents enrolling at the government-run and private centres for de-addiction.

After chairing a meeting to monitor the anti-drug campaign, the CM directed the health department to strengthen the network of outpatient opioid-assisted treatment (OOAT) centres as well as de-addiction and rehabilitation centres by linking them with Aadhaar. Ironically, the government had earlier announced helplines to provide easy and “confidential” access to drug dependents and their families, as well as informers.

Govt to geo-tag drug-affected villages
  • In a bid to check narcotics smuggling from across the border, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday suggested shorter tenures for the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel at border to break their alleged nexus with drug smugglers.
  • Addressing a meeting of all deputy commissioners, commissioners of police and SSPs of the state, he also accepted a proposal of the police for geo-tagging of drug-affected villages to ensure their regular and proper monitoring. Drug-free villages would be given additional grants for development works, as an incentive.
  • The CM asked the police to formulate a robust system of reward and punishment to check drug abuse, with the suggestion to consider informers for government jobs as an incentive and also called for strengthening of the forensic labs to ensure proper and speedy testing of samples.
  • He said the SDMs, DSPs and SHOs shall be held responsible and accountable for ensuring that their respective areas are drug-free. Local officials should visit the houses from where drug abuse cases are reported and submit a comprehensive report for necessary follow-up action.
  • The CM added that he would be requesting the Punjab and Haryana high court to set up fast-track courts to resolve cases under the NDPS Act in areas where more than 600 drug-related cases have been reported to ensure speedy punishment for culprits and send exemplary message to others.

State health minister Brahm Mohindra said each dependent will be issued a unique and secret code by the centre that takes his Aadhaar details. “He can use this code at any centre, be it Tarn Taran or Moga,” he said.

All de-addiction centres will be required to maintain record of each patient, along with biometrics. “This will stop drug dependents from enrolling at multiple centres to buy de-addiction medicine, Buprenorphine. Details will be maintained by the centre to check diversion and misuse of the medicine. They will not be shared or disclosed to anyone,” additional chief secretary, health, Satish Chandra told HT.

But the move has raised serious questions on breach of secrecy. Drug dependents will have to share their actual Aadhaar number with the treatment centres which will generate a secret code number for them. Unlike the ‘virtual ID’ mooted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) wherein a person can opt for not sharing his actual Aadhaar number but a random number generated from the UIDAI website.

It will also help create a database at a time when the deaths and the government’s outreach has seen drug users flocking to de-addiction centres — there has been a five-fold jump in average registration in OOAT centres from 70 new patients per day in June to 408 per day in July. Prompted by reports that some private centres had sales of over Rs 1 lakh per day for Buprenorphine, Amarinder ordered the police and health officials to crack down aggressively on sale of de-addiction drugs, which he said were being “misused” by addicts.

But psychiatrists warn that it may result in breach of privacy and Buprenorphine is not the main culprit. “Patients might stay away from the treatment as they may fear that it might affect their future prospects in government jobs and schemes. Government has to address these fears. Centres giving opioid substitution therapy are required to keep IDs of patients according to National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) guidelines. But there is no statewide record in Punjab and Haryana. Seeking Aadhaar can prevent patients from registering at multiple centres, but sensitivities of patients will have to be kept in mind,” Dr Sumit Puri, in-charge of a private neuropsychiatric centre in Kalka (Haryana), said.

Dr Aswin Mohan, member of the Chandigarh chapter of Indian Association of Private Psychiatry, said the potential of misuse of Buprenorphine is “very low”. “The drug-related deaths are more from curtailing of supply of heroin leading to drug dependents opting for injections and deadlier cocktail of drugs. Government should not curtail the supply of Buprenorphine owing to its presumed misuse as it will derail efforts to fight addiction. You cannot wish away addicts,” he said, adding, “As for seeking Aadhaar details, confidentiality is of paramount importance for patients. Capturing biometrics can serve as a deterrent for misuse of the medicine, provided there is a robust system to maintain secrecy.”

Mohindra said the government will ensure there is no breach of data.

Medical Council of India guidelines on secrecy say, “Confidences entrusted by patients to a physician during medical attendance should never be revealed unless their revelation is required by the laws of the State.”

The move comes after the state cabinet early this month mooted death penalty for first-time offenders, and the CM declared a mandatory dope test for all its employees.

The CM also announced after the meeting that rehabilitated addicts would be given priority in ‘Ghar Ghar Rozgar’ (employment) programme, and suggested that informers be given government jobs as incentive.

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 23:16 IST