Drug addiction spreads by Gobind Thukral Three decades ago we visited the inner Malwa area of Punjab to find out the level of drug addiction. We heard shocking tales of how youth were getting hooked to opium, bhuki and narcotics. Worse, pharmaceutical combinations meant to treat diseases were being consumed for a high. At Bathinda’s Red Cross de-addiction centre, some well-built youth hailing from rich land-owning families looked pale and forlorn. Some were even married and had children. Doctors and relatives were working hard to wean them from the deadly habit but with limited success. Parents cursed their fate as wives and sisters prayed to the Almighty to help their husbands and brothers recover. Farm labourers were more miserable as not many had relatives and friends to help them get out of the killer habit. In all, it was a miserable story of hopelessness. Those were then the sad tales from the Malwa of Punjab. Now drug addiction has spread to all corners of Punjab and Chandigarh. In many villages, towns and cities, not a single family is spared. Haggard youth, locally called “smackia”, greet you at bus terminals, in street corners, close to chemist shops and liquor vends. At marriages and other social gatherings they form separate groups. Elders advise you to steer clear of these louts. Many parents and elders wish them either dead or move to some foreign lands with the hope that work would reform them. A senior doctor at Chandigarh’s PGI has estimated the number of drug addicts at several lakhs in Punjab. He also revealed shocking tales of ingenuity like roasting of lizards or even consuming pain killers and tranquillisers of various forms. Narcotic powder and heroin seized in Punjab in the last three years is sufficient as a single dose for over 50 lakh people. Once hooked, young men soon graduate to cough syrups and then move on to a lethal diet of opium, charas, ganja, mandrax, smack and heroin. Those who cannot afford these take a deep breath of petrol or spread Iodex on bread to get a momentary thrill. Studies by PGI doctors over the years have found peer pressure, thrill-seeking and even curiosity about drugs as the main factors that make youth take to drugs. Lack of any purpose in life was another key reason. Myths related to sexual potency, thrill-seeking and punitive attitude of elders and lack of support during periods of stress were other reasons for drug addiction. This widespread consumption of intoxicants gives a false sense of coming-of-age status for youth. The Punjab Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children conducted a survey in 2005 and found 67 per cent of the rural households in Punjab having one drug addict each. The report that covered Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Muktsar and Gurdaspur found narcotics were the most common form of addiction. Dr Ravinder Singh Sandhu, Professor, Department of Sociology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, found more than 73 per cent of drug addicts belong to the age group of 16-35 years. There are numerous studies to warn political and social leaders of the dangerous situation where Punjab has landed in. Intriguingly, the excise policy followed by the successive governments is liberal and aims at getting more and more taxes through more and more liquor vends. Currently, the revenue is around Rs 1,728 crore as opposed to Rs 1,656 crore in 2007-08. There were 6,902 liquor vends in Punjab. In Chandigarh there are more liquor vends than government primary schools. Now add to this illicit distillation, almost two times and the sixth river of Punjab is full of intoxicants. There is a well-knit nexus that makes the supply and sale of drugs a smooth lucrative business and it puts to shame the government’s lethargic corrupt functioning. The smuggler-police-politician nexus, aided by a chain of retail outlets, works smoothly. Interestingly, politicians and law-enforcement agents blame each other for the mess. We all know how politicians use smugglers for money and musclemen. Chemists along with quacks, drug peddlers and truck drivers have been identified as the main supply sources of drugs in Punjab. Chemists provide drugs to addicts without a prescription. Even many of the so-called de-addiction centres are actually proving to be addiction centres. These are, in fact, supplying drugs to the inmates. The number of chemist shops and de-addiction centres has increased at an unbelievable rate. Private de-addiction centres lack basic facilities but earn a quick buck. Now during the election time, the supply is maintained by political leaders to please voters. Several thousand new drug addicts have been added during the present elections. The problem has assumed epidemic proportions in the rural areas where the education level is low and unemployment rampant. Not a single village is without scores of drug addicts. Is this not the time for leaders like Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Capt Amarinder Singh to at least instruct their candidates and cadres not to supply drugs to voters?