By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, July 1 (IANS) With Punjab emerging as a major transit and destination point for drugs coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the state government has begun a new campaign against drugs to check addiction and abuse among youth.
The state's health department has commissioned a study on drug abuse in the border districts of Punjab to know how widespread the menace is and to initiate corrective measures.
State Health and Family Welfare Minister Luxmi Kanta Chawla has announced that each of the state's 20 districts will now have a drug de-addiction centre in each civil hospital by the end of this year.
"A proposal to establish 10-bedded drug dependence treatment centres in all 20 district civil hospitals has been sent to the planning board for inclusion in the annual plan 2010-11," Chawla said.
Alarmed by the growing menace of 'habit-forming' drugs, Chawla said the health department had in the last five months alone seized drugs worth nearly Rs.80 lakh from 225 chemist shops and premises like warehouses during searches at nearly 2,200 places.
Many selling habit-forming drugs have been arrested, penalised and, in some cases, their licences to sell medicines have been cancelled.
But there is a larger dimension to the issue.
Punjab Police officials say that drugs worth over Rs.2,000 crore (over $430 million) could be transiting and landing in Punjab. In the last two years security agencies have seized drugs worth over Rs.600 crore ($129 mn) .
"The amount of drugs that are seized could be less than 20 percent of the total drugs trade through the state," a senior Punjab Police official told IANS.
Chawla says that being a border state, with 550-km international border with Pakistan, Punjab "has became a transit point in international drug trafficking".
"Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur are at increased risk of the drug menace," she added.
Even Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state's home minister, has publicly acknowledged that the drugs menace was widespread in the state, especially among youth.
Punjab at present has three drug de-addiction centres in government medical colleges in Patiala, Amritsar and Faridkot. Seven other de-addiction centres are functional at district hospitals at Tarn Taran, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Faridkot, Muktsar and Hoshiarpur.
"De-addiction treatment in OPDs has been provided to 15,113 patients, while 2,421 patients were admitted for de-addiction in government de-addiction centres in 2009," Health Minister Chawla said.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi has imparted training in drug-abuse prevention to 20 psychiatrists from Punjab in the past six-eight months, thanks to a state government initiative.
Besides the government de-addiction centres, scores of private de-addiction centres, many of them illegal, are being run in smaller towns, villages and cities across Punjab.
But drug addicts are often kept in miserable conditions in these private de-addiction centres. Raids have been conducted in some centres in the last few years and the patients have been freed by health authorities and the police.
There are also 26 voluntary de-addiction/counselling centres in Punjab being run under the control of the central government's health ministry.