Punjab Drug Problem: Let’s clear some misunderstandings

Authorities should look at drug abuse as a social problem, not an individual one

Dr Ravinder Singh Sandhu | April 30, 2015




First of all, there is scarcity of studies on drug addiction in India in general and particularly in Punjab, and even the available ones are not being read, they are rather misquoted. It is ironical that in the age of information society, such attitude persists and depicts a lack of scientific temper and apathy towards research done in universities. It also shows how unconcerned and non-serious the administration is in tackling the burning social problem of the state. It implies that those at the helm of affairs are not interested in understanding the problems and their intricacies in a scientific manner. Usually some misconceptions/myths prevail in the absence of empirical data and research studies. Such misconceptions often become the basis for policy formulation, which consequently leads to inadequate understanding of social problems and wastage of public money.

READ: Punjab drug problem: The lost generation

Keeping these facts in view, I would like to share findings of my study in brief, which will help us in dispelling common notions about drug abuse in the state.

‘Drug Addiction in Punjab: A Sociological Study’ was exploratory in nature and it was undertaken to know the nature and pattern of drug addiction in the state and to study socio-economic profile of drug addicts in Punjab as also to learn the causes and consequences of drug addiction in order to suggest an action plan to combat the problem. On the whole, 600 drug addicts were interviewed with the help of a structured interview schedule from four districts of the state.

READ: 16,701 drug peddlers, and counting


Socio-economic characteristics of addicts

The study indicated that 73.5 percent of drug addicts belonged to the 16-35 year age group; 56 percent of drug addicts, both in rural as well as in urban areas, were married; 59.33 percent of the drug addicts were from nuclear families. More  illiterates (40.66 percent) and with low-level of education (23.33 percent) were susceptible to drugs in rural Punjab whereas educated youth (44.67 percent) were more susceptible to drugs in urban Punjab; 39 percent drug addicts were self-employed and 34.67 percent were in petty private jobs and daily wagers. About one-fourth of the drug addicts were unemployed and only 2.83 percent of them were in government jobs. Unemployment is positively associated with the addiction and government service is negatively associated with addiction. An overwhelming majority of respondents own houses and believe in God. None of the migrants was found to be a drug addict.

Myths and misconceptions

Punjab had the highest per capita income in 1993-94 amongst all the major states but within the last two decades, ie, from 1993-94 to 2013-14 even Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh overtook Punjab. Punjabis are well known for their bravery and hospitality. In the last few years, Punjab is being depicted as the highest consumer of drugs in the country due to misinterpretation of some studies. There is no scientific data which can support this assertion. In fact, there is lack of information about the number of drug addicts in the country as well as in the state. Whatever data is available is on users of drugs, not about the abusers of drugs. Users should not be interpreted as abusers. Rather, a recently conducted district-level health survey (DLHS-4) under the union ministry of health and family welfare revealed that at the all-India level, Arunachal Pradesh tops the list with 65.4 percent males into drinking. In north India, Himachal Pradesh is number one state  in consumption of liquor (37 percent) and tobacco (34.1 percent) and Punjab is at third place with 34.9 percent in liquor consumption and at number four in tobacco (11.8 percent) consumption.

READ: De-addiction and beyond

Usually, high incidence of drug abuse is associated with prosperity in Punjab and higher land values in the rural Punjab. The data given in the pie chart above shows that majority (62.33 percent) of the respondents were earning only up to '5,000 per month and in addition to this one-sixth of them (16.67 percent) had no income at all. This shows that an overwhelming majority (79 percent) of the addicts was from the lower income groups and only one tenth of them (9.83 percent) were earning more than '8,000 per month. Data on operational landholdings in Punjab reveals that a majority of the households (63.49 percent) are marginal, small and small-medium farmers having less than 4 hectares of operational landholdings. According to the planning commission, 19 percent of the population in the state is below poverty line and rural poverty is higher than urban poverty. So, the data given above debunks the myth that drug addiction in Punjab is due to affluence and high land values in rural areas. At the national level also, according to the National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06), there is inverse relationship between the incidence of drug addiction and prosperity, which is also true in case of Punjab.

Another misconceived common belief is that the incidence of drug abuse is higher in Punjab because of its common border with Pakistan, which facilitates smuggling of narcotics and drugs into India. The pie chart on page 38 reveals that one-fifth (20 percent) of the respondents were only taking synthetic drugs, which include tablets like Brufen, Proxyvon, and Diazepam, and injections of morphine. ‘Bhukki’ was the second-most popular drug being used. Bhukki is Malwa specific drug and alcohol is exclusively used by one-ninth of the respondents (11.33 percent) which is more popular in Majha and Doaba. About less than half of them were in the habit of taking two or more drugs daily, which include synthetic drugs and alcohol. But opium, heroin/smack users avoided other drugs. Smack and heroin is more popular among educated and economically well off respondents, which constituted only 5.17 percent of the sample.

A recent study conducted by the Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana on 5,320 drug addicts also reveals that smack/heroin is the least popular and indigenous synthetic drugs are more popular among addicts in Punjab.

So, it can be concluded that smuggling across the border was not the main reason for increase in the drug menace, because a very small proportion of addicts can afford to take such a drug due to its high price. On the other hand, consumption of liquor has increased from 19 crore bottles in 2005-06 to 36 crore bottles in 2013. Further, earning from excise duty from the sale of liquor in the last eight years has increased from '1,363.67 crore (2006-07) to '4,680 crore (2014-15) and the state government estimates to earn '5,040 crore in 2015-16, it indicates the increasing use of alcohol in the state. As pointed above, about one-fifth of the respondents exclusively used synthetic drugs (tablets and capsules, injections), which are cheap and freely available even in the remote corners of the state because of the mushrooming of illegal chemist shops on the periphery of cities and in villages. It is another contributing factor in the increase of drug abuse by providing cheap drugs at the door steps of the abusers.

The reasons

Drug addiction is spreading like cancer and is eating away a vital component of human resource in the state. It is a manifestation of existing socio-economic and political conditions in society. Main reasons attributed to drug abuse are; lack of awareness among people, unemployment, easy availability of drugs, poverty, lack of political will and soft state as conceptualised by Gunnar Myrdal (a soft state is one where policies decided are often not enforced), corruption in society, which consequently leads to inefficient implementation of drug prevention. In addition to above, high aspirations of the youth, which are not fulfilled due to low quality of education imparted to the lower income groups in rural and urban government schools of the state, leave them disillusioned and susceptible to drugs.

The perception

In the present context, the drug addicts, their families and the community are the main victims of the problems. In the study, it was found that 55.6 percent respondents reported that their neighbours were not concerned about their behaviour and only in 9.5 percent cases, neighbours showed some concern for the addicts. This apathy of neighbours and community as a whole reveals that drug addiction is perceived as an individual or family problem, not as a social one. A senior police officer considering drug addiction as an individual problem remarked it is a disease with which a person dies within a few years. While interacting with government functionaries it was found that they were also perceiving it as an individual and a family problem. Therefore, it is utmost important to consider this problem as a social one. A social problem is one of which causes and solutions lie outside the individual domain. The addicts are treated as culprits whereas they should be treated as victims of the existing environment which compels them to become addicts. Therefore, the limited perception of problem at various levels results in wrong diagnosis and offers inadequate solutions.

The state is earning around '13 crore daily from the excise duty on sale of liquor but nothing is spent on the research on drug abuse. If 8 percent of one day’s income from excise duty is spent on the research on drug abuse in the state, then the state can get every detail about this complex problem to formulate a comprehensive policy to save the state’s youth from this menace. The present debate has created some awareness about the drug abuse in the state. Recently the government started taking action against abusers/peddlers through police but without proper planning. The need of the hour is to understand the multifaceted problem from a scientific point of view and try to find the solution for the same by involving experts and implement the formulated plans with a missionary zeal and strong political will through institutionalised framework, instead of ad-hoc and popular measures.

Dr Sandhu is UGC emeritus fellow, dept of social work, Punjabi University, Patiala. He is also former professor and dean of faculty of social sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

(The article appears in the April 16-30, 2015, issue)

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