Punjab drug crisis. These three words created a major socio-political change in one of India’s most beloved states. So much so that it prompted a shift in the political reins from the SAD-BJP alliance to the Congress. The newly formed government, spearheaded by Captain Amarinder Singh, promised to deal with the problem effectively and end the drug menace of Punjab.
It has been two years since the ambitious slogan coined by the CM, “Char hafte vich khatam” essentially promising the people to end the entire drug crisis in mere four weeks. Needless to say, this was not achieved, not even remotely. Yet, it would be wrong to say that nothing was done. Captain Singh reported a whopping 126% rise in the number of drug addicts reporting at Out Patient Departments of various health care clinics. He also added that almost 5,107 drug addicts are being treated at government rehabilitation centres and 17,667 in private hospitals. These developments came under Punjab government’s unique scheme labelled DAPO or Drug Abuse Prevention Officer. Under this scheme, the government was assisted by lakhs of citizen and government employee volunteers. Although this is appreciation worthy work was done by the government, there is so much more the government can do and has the responsibility to do and so many more things it has failed to do.
One crucial factor the government doesn’t seem to have taken in mind is the relapse rate of addicts. There seems to be extremely less or almost no data on this factor. People may report getting de-addicted at healthcare facilities but how many of them actually go on to be completely free of their addiction and not fall into the vicious cycle yet again? It is not very hard to get access to drugs once someone is out of the rehabilitation facility. Although the availability has gone down considerably, the government has mostly targeted small drug peddlers while the big fish of the menace still lurk around and have moved on to online black markets. Intra-state and international drug syndicates still operate without any glitches.
One huge unaddressed problem is that of female drug addicts. According to reports, of the total 9,462 people admitted at the Swami Vivekananda de-addiction centre in Amritsar, only 33 were women. It is not that women in Punjab are not a part of this drug vortex at all, it is just that there is a huge amount of social stigma attached to being a female drug addict. It is unfathomable to the people that the lady of the house can ever fall prey to this disease. Hence very few women come forward with their addiction problems which can prove to be extremely harmful to the society.
One thing has been very clear over the past two years, the citizens, government employees, BSF and the Punjab Police have to work together to put an end to this menace. These four factions have to introspect and support each other. The people of Punjab need to recognise that there are so many women addicts who are going about untreated due to social stigma.
According to a report by the Orf Issue Brief, as many as 53 officials of Punjab Police were arrested in connection to the drug trade since 2014. The police need to take strict action against their officials who aid this menace to thrive for personal gain. The BSF and the government need to work on new technologies to make the border more secure from cross-border drug transport. It is no secret that the politicians and drug cartel go hand in hand, according to the same report, a retired IPS officer Shashi Kant submitted to the SAD-BJP government a list of 90 people including high profile officers, politicians, former ministers and even some NGOs who were involved with a drug cartel. The government remains mum on this report and nothing has come of it since then. The media needs to highlight this problem which plagues millions of people and not act like it suffers from selective amnesia. It needs to step up and remind itself what journalism is truly about.
Most importantly we have to understand that drug addiction is a complex disease. Drug addicts belong in rehabilitation centres, not behind bars.