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Scramble and scepticism in power circles over dope test

What will dope test achieve, ask some Punjab ministers; CM, most ministers on medication; some medicines can give false positive results, say doctors

punjab Updated: Jul 08, 2018 20:44 IST
dope test
Member of Parliament Gurjeet Singh Aujla showing his dope test report in Amritsar on Friday. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s diktat for dope test for all government employees has set off a game of truth-or-dare between opposition parties and the ruling Congress. The employees’ union too has asked the CM and his ministers to first undergo the test.

A day after Amarinder accepted the challenge thrown by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to undergo a dope test himself, leaving it on the conscience of his cabinet colleagues to make their own judgment, there was scramble and scepticism in power circles of Punjab.

While Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and assembly speaker Rana KP Singh underwent the dope test on Friday, finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu declared to do so over the weekend. Amritsar MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla underwent the test on Friday. Rana, after undergoing the test at civil hospital in Mohali, said blaming the police or state employees is not fair. “There are black sheep in every profession,” he said.

Some ministers are questioning the gains from the move. "Someone taking routine medicines can test positive and those like (Akali leader Bikram Singh) Majithia whose name cropped up in the Bhola drug scandal can test negative. You could dismiss someone from service for being on a life-saving drug, while a criminal perpetrator could go scot-free,” local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said.

The former cricketer, who has been put on blood thinners after suffering from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), says he is willing to undergo the test as per doctor’s advice. “I will have to ask if I need to discontinue the medicine before taking it. But I do not understand how this would help our battle against drugs,” he said, asking rhetorically, “Do countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Singapore prescribe dope tests for its people, or have eliminated drugs by taking on drug syndicates?”

Some antibiotics, medicines for cough and cold, psychiatric ailments and painkillers, too, can cause false-positive urine drug tests. Amarinder himself is on medication for diabetes and some other ailments. His media adviser Raveen Thukral said the CM’s doctors will have to decide (on his medication) as and when he goes for the test.

Power minister Gurpreet Singh Kangar said he, too, is on medication for hypertension for the past 20 years. “I am willing to undergo the dope test. But I am not sure what it will achieve,” Kangar added.

Animal husbandry minister Balbir Singh Sidhu dared SAD chief Sukhbir Badal to undergo the test first. “When Akalis were in power, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa (now jails minister) had dared all lawmakers to undergo a dope test while speaking in the assembly. Why did Akalis shy away from it then?” he said.Balbir Sidhu, who takes pills for hypertension and sinusitis, says he will seek advice from doctors and “if need be, I will stop the medication to take the test”. He added, “Even if it is mere symbolism, it matters.”

Food minister Ashu, also on medication for hypertension, is on Amarnath Yatra and will take the test on Saturday. “The message is as important as the messenger,” he said.

Manpreet Badal said he is not on any medication and would have taken the dope test on Friday but was busy. “I will take the test in Bathinda over the weekend,” he added.

Rural development minister Tript Rajinder Bajwa, who mooted the proposal of dope test for all policemen after fireworks in Monday's cabinet meeting over “drug-tainted” cops, could not undergo the test on Thursday as he is on medicine for neurological problem. “He will now undergo the test on Monday,” an aide said.

Dr Debasish Basu, professor at drug de-addiction and treatment centre at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and architect of the ‘Punjab model’ to deal with drug addiction, says false-positive results in dope tests are very much a possibility. “Some medicines for common ailments such as coughs are opioid-based, and rapid immunoassay (screening tests being done at government civil hospitals) can show false positive results,” he added.

On the other hand, if a drug dependent abstains for few days, the tests can be false-negative. Drugs which are called ‘chitta’ (‘white’) in Punjab, such as ‘ecstasy’, stays for 3-4 days in urine and up to two days in blood; and ethamphetamine (crystal meth) stays for 3-6 days in urine and up to three days in blood.

First Published: Jul 07, 2018 10:22 IST