‘Punjab’s approach to problem lopsided, dependency on alcohol more common than on opioids’

Navjeevan Gopal

The state government is earning Rs 14.3 crore daily as excise duty from the sale of alcohol.(Representational Image)

FORMER DEAN of the Guru Nanak Dev University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Ranvinder Singh Sandhu Wednesday said Punjab’s approach regarding drug addiction was “narrow and lopsided because the focus is only on opioid dependents, whereas alcohol dependents constitute two-third of drug dependents”.

Sandhu, who delivered a lecture at Punjabi University, Patiala on ‘Drug Menace in Punjab: Myth and Reality’ told The Indian Express, “The Punjab Opioid Dependent Survey, 2015 estimated that Rs 7,525 crore was spent on the purchase of opioids annually, i.e. Rs 20 crore daily.

On the other hand, the state government is earning Rs 14.3 crore daily as excise duty from the sale of alcohol. In other words, users were spending Rs 114.4 crore daily and Rs 41,756 crore annually for the purchase of alcohol. This is besides the illegal sale of alcohol in the state which is also a well-known fact.”

He said, “In the revised excise policy of the state, it is estimated to earn Rs 6,220 crore in 2019-20 as excise duty on sale of alcohol, which means that people would be spending Rs 49,760 crore during this period i.e. Rs 8,004 crore more than the previous year. It is important to note that in the last 12 years, income from excise duty has increased from Rs 1,363.67 crore (2006-07) to Rs 5,150 crore (2018-19). It clearly indicates the state’s liberal excise policy to earn more from the sale of liquor is detrimental to the health of the population.”

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A study by Sandhu ‘Drug addiction in Punjab: A sociological study’ (2009)  had revealed that only 5.1 per cent of drug addicts were heroin dependents.

Sandhu said, “Similarly, a study conducted by Dayanand Medical College Ludhiana and Government Medical College Patiala (2014) also reported only 1 per cent of heroin dependents in their sample of 5,320 drug addicts from 10 de-addiction centres of the states.” A study on opioids in Punjab conducted in 2015 by PGI Chandigarh estimated that there were 2,32,838 opioids dependents in Punjab, Sandhu said.

“In the last few years, a myth has been created that Punjab is the worst state when it comes to substance abuse and the main cause of the problem is opioids abuse (particularly heroin/smack/Chitta),” said Sandhu. Drug addiction was a major issue in the 2017 state Assembly election.

“However, the findings of the recent survey of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India ‘Magnitude of Substance Use in India’, February 2019, debunks this myth. This survey is a historical and unprecedented undertaking.

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So far there has been no attempt to document the extent and pattern of substance use in India in a comprehensive manner. This is the first time when substance use has been studied and documented in all states and UTs of the country. The study is based on the information collected from 4,73,459 individuals in the age group of 10 to 75 years during December 2017 to October 2018 in all states and UTs,” said Sandhu.

Sandhu said the report established that “Alcohol is the most common psychoactive substance used in India. Nationally, 16 crore persons (14.6 per cent of the population) consume alcohol in the country i.e., current users.

Extent of current use of alcohol varies from state to state. The top three states with the highest use of alcohol are Chhattisgarh (35.6 per cent), Tripura (34.75 per cent) and Punjab (28.5 per cent).

“I am sure that in the light of above mentioned historical report brought out by none other than the Government of India, the state government would revise its present lopsided approach to handle the drug addiction in the state in a more effective, comprehensive and scientific manner,” he added.