Drug Abuse in the Punjab

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Farm labour, teenagers worst hit by drug abuse

Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 25

It is around 7 p.m. A coded message, “Jahaj aa gaya hai” (the plane has landed), brings cheer to drug addicts of a small village in the Malwa belt. Bordering Rajasthan, this village has nearly 70 per cent of its population, including men, women and boys, addicted to “bhukki” (poppy husk).

Immediately after the word spreads, the addicts make a beeline for the venue from where they are going to draw their daily or weekly quota of “bhukki”. To avoid detection by the police and other government agencies, the venue is changed frequently.

The couriers bring the supplies in either trucks or tractor-trailers concealing the bags of “bhukki” among those of vegetables, fruit or farm inputs.

“Bhukki” has been the poor man’s addiction. Its main source of supply in Punjab is Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the cultivation of poppy is licensed. Addicts take either “chura” (ground husk) with water or boil “bhukki” in water and drink the “karah” (concentrate).

“At a special one-day medical camp held at Kot Isse Khan in Moga district late last year, we examined 471 cases of drug addicts, including women and teenagers,” says a Ludhiana-based psychiatrist, Dr Rajeev Gupta. “Though the problem is much more in the rural areas, it is no better in urban areas either. I have cases where teenagers have been assaulting their parents and even grandparents to demand money for buying drugs. In one case, a teenaged boy spends Rs 1,500 a day on smack. Another teenager consumes a bottle of Indian-made foreign liquor a day.

Dr Gupta says the increased intake of drugs is one reason for the rise in the rate of mortality in the 20-40 age group, besides making the affected persons incapable of performing tough jobs, especially those associated with farm operations or industry.

A recent study by the Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communications revealed that the percentage of households affected by drug abuse was 61 in Majha, 64 in Malwa and 68 in Doaba.

In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, opium and “bhukki” are sold at authorised shops. Realising that Punjab has a flourishing market; many Rajasthani vendors have opened their shops close to the Punjab border.

“Though we put up nakas to prevent people from bringing the contraband from Rajasthan or Haryana, many manage to conceal it in their undergarments,” says a police officer who had a stint in Abohar and Fazilka.

“Addicts do not miss any opportunity. They make frequent trips to the shop in case there is some laxity or the absence of checking at the border because of the deployment of forces elsewhere. If one brings in say 5 kg of “bhukki”, he or she ends up saving Rs 1,000 besides getting his or her supply of the drug for a week. Though the rate in Rajasthan varies between Rs 180 and Rs 220 a kg, it is between Rs 450 and Rs 500 a kg in Punjab. Another common addiction for farm labourers is ‘gutka’, which has come with migrant labourers. It is also cheap,” he adds.

The problem of addiction among farm labourers is equally severe in the Doaba and Majha regions also.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, this police officer reveals that people belonging to the lower middle class are usually addicted to opium, charas and ganja. In the case of institution areas, say colleges, the chemical substances in demand by students in the state are smack and psychotropic drugs besides cough syrups. Girls are no exception.

“Bhukki” becomes the most-sought-after “contraband” when elections, be these to the gram panchayat, the block samiti, the zila parishad, the Vidhan Sabha or the Lok Sabha, are to be held.

Though “bhukki” continues to grip rural Punjab, alcohol, smack, heroin and various pharmaceuticals have displaced traditional drugs in the more affluent urban areas. Criminal networks have pushed traditional suppliers out of the trade.

Injectible pharmaceuticals are wreaking havoc in the rural areas. Of the 65 AIDS deaths reported from Patti tehsil in Amritsar during the past few years, at least 50 per cent of the victims were suspected to be drug addicts. It was the frequent use of the same needle for injecting drugs that led to the spread of the fatal disease.

A multifold increase in the prices of liquor, including beer, may further encourage the consumption of cheaper drugs like “bhukki”, charas and ganja besides psychotropic and sedative drugs by urban youth. Affordability and availability remain major factors.

“If it is true, then it is serious,” says the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, revealing that he has asked the Excise and Taxation Department for a report.

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