Indian state in grip of a drug epidemic

September 28, 2012 by Ammu Kannampilly

On a muggy evening in the north Indian city of Amritsar, Sunil Sharma prepares for another heroin hit in a decrepit, abandoned building.

Before inhaling the fumes of his brown paste heated on a piece of tinfoil, the 23-year-old explained he had tried heroin for the first time six months ago when his girlfriend left him to marry another man.

"I feel bad... why have I become like this? Why have I tied this noose around my neck?" he told AFP, slurring his words.

There are thousands like him across the state of Punjab, which leads the country in drug-related crime with a rate that is nearly ten times the national average, according to police records.

In an affidavit submitted in 2009 to the state high court, the local government estimated that 67 percent of all rural households in Punjab were home to at least one drug addict.

Located on a long-standing smuggling route that sees heroin transported from Afghanistan via neighbouring Pakistan and on to markets elsewhere in the region, Punjab is now increasingly a final destination for the contraband.

When local couriers involved in smuggling "came to know that drugs have a lot of profit then they began to indulge in local selling of these things," says S. Boopathi, assistant inspector general of the state police narcotics cell.

He said it was impossible to estimate the amount of drugs crossing Punjab, but added that "trade is huge".

Rajiv Walia, regional coordinator at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told AFP that Punjab had "a serious problem because it borders trafficking routes and drug-producing regions."

— "You will do anything to support the habit" —

In the 1970s, Punjab was regarded as India's "bread basket", due to its , prosperous farmer community and booming .

Some, like former addict Navneet Singh, see the growing appetite for drugs as "a problem of abundance."

Singh, a successful restaurant owner who has been clean for 11 years, grew up in a wealthy family.

He believes that Punjab's relative affluence and its cultural norms, coupled with the easy access to drugs, make addiction a commonplace reality.

"Punjab has a very macho culture, very prone to showing off. It's a ready-made market for drugs," the 38-year-old told AFP.

"What does the Punjabi do when he gets rich? He buys an SUV, a gun and he gets high," he said.

"Then as time passes and you get addicted you will do anything to support the habit," he added.

Doctor J.P.S. Bhatia has witnessed the problem of addiction in Punjab from close quarters.

When the psychiatrist set up his hospital in 1991, he would see one or two drug-related cases a week.

Today, out of the 130 patients he sees every day, some 70 to 80 percent are battling , he tells AFP.

In response to the expanding scale of the problem, Bhatia set up a rehab centre for recovering addicts in 2003.

"I see cases where the son is into addiction, the father is into addiction...the whole family is sick," he says, comparing the state's situation to "a ticking time bomb".

Those who are too poor to afford heroin or cocaine take to swallowing or injecting cheap prescription drugs or consuming a locally-produced crude form of opium called "bhukki", a tea-like drink made from ground poppy husk.

— "I can't see a way out of my life" —

The Amritsar neighbourhood of Maqboolpura has lost so many young men to overdoses or drug-related illnesses, that it is locally known as "the village of widows".

Schoolmaster Ajit Singh has two cousins who are addicted to crude forms of heroin. Another cousin, whose morphine habit saw him leave home to beg on the streets, died at the age of 31.

According to Singh, who grew up in Maqboolpura, the working class community here began to dabble in the sale of opium in the 1960s, when they realised how lucrative the business could be.

"First, it was an easy way to make money. Then they developed a taste for the stuff," he said.

Today, he estimates that each house along the 13 narrow streets that make up this neighbourhood is home to at least one drug addict.

Unlike his older cousins, Singh managed to finish school and he became a teacher of political science and a local community worker.

He began by offering evening classes to local children whose fathers had fallen victim to addiction and went on to found a school for more than 600 pupils.

Local mother, Kiran Kaur whose two children attend the school, worries for her husband who has struggled to find work as a labourer since developing a prescription drug habit.

"I have asked him many times to quit but I don't think he can do it," the 32-year-old sighed.

As she waited for her children to finish class, she added: "I can't see a way out of my life, but things can be different for my children if they study hard."

Explore further: Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction; clinical trials possible within 18 months

Related Stories

Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction; clinical trials possible within 18 months

August 14, 2012
In a major breakthrough, an international team of scientists has proven that addiction to morphine and heroin can be blocked, while at the same time increasing pain relief.

In Russia's sea of drugs, rehab offers a harbour of hope

April 19, 2012
Katya Nikitina could not sleep, think, or move during her first seven days at the rehab clinic.

Recommended for you

Marijuana use amongst youth stable, but substance abuse admissions up

August 15, 2017
While marijuana use amongst youth remains stable, youth admission to substance abuse treatment facilities has increased, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Report reveals underground US haven for heroin, drug users

August 8, 2017
A safe haven where drug users inject themselves with heroin and other drugs has been quietly operating in the United States for the past three years, a report reveals.

Regular energy drink use linked to later drug use among young adults

August 8, 2017
Could young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks be at risk for future substance use? A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol ...

Gamblers more likely to have suffered childhood traumas, research shows

August 2, 2017
Men with problem and pathological gambling addictions are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas including physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home, according to new research.

Incorporating 12-step program elements improves youth substance-use disorder treatment

July 26, 2017
A treatment program for adolescents with substance-use disorder that incorporates the practices and philosophy of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) produced even better results than the current state-of-the ...

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.