Himachal needs help to tackle growing drug problem

Nearly a third of Himachal Pradesh's population are the youth, a population group particularly vulnerable to drug abuse  

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Wednesday 11 March 2020
Cannabis cultivated in Himachal is in high demand in India and abroad Photo: Pexels

Tiny Himachal Pradesh has a large problem at hand: The state equalled those notorious for drug dependency.

The Himalayan state, with a population of about seven million, was close behind the northeastern states, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in ‘quantum of work’ — harmful use plus dependence — on several drugs, according to a report.

Nearly a third of Himachal's population are the youth, a population group particularly vulnerable to drug abuse. 

In Himachal, 3.2 per cent of the population used charas and ganja — derivatives of cannabis — much above the national average. It was the sixth-highest user along with Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram, according to Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019.

The first-of-its kind report of findings of a nationwide survey was partnered by All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre. The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment released it in 2019. It categorised the population between 10 and 75 years.

Cannabis cultivated in Himachal is in high demand in India and abroad.

The state scored 1.70 per cent in quantum of work for opioids, again more than double the national figure of 0.70 per cent. Six north-eastern states, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Daman & Diu ranked higher than Himachal.

The hill state also ranked high in quantum of work for sedatives, scoring 0.39 per cent against a national average of 0.20 per cent. It again ranked behind the northeastern states, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi as well as Puducherry.

Himachal placed fourth, behind Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Delhi, when it came to harmful or dependent use of inhalants. Himachal had a score of 1.08 per cent while the country’s average was 0.21 per cent.

There are reports of drug seizures and peddlers being arrested on a daily basis in the state. Drugs like chitta — heroin mixed with other substances — are peddled through chain-marketing channels, where addicts become peddlers.

While the state government took measures to tackle the menace, a lot more needed to be done, according to activists.

The state government trained teachers and staff at tehsil levels for primary screening, counselling and prevention.

There were 46 de-addiction out-patient departments to treat substance users in hospitals. In addition to these, four Integrated Rehabilitation Centres for Addicts (IRCAs) were established.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, while presenting the state budget in the first week of March 2020, announced the setting up of five more IRCAs. This will include an one dedicated to women substance users.

The government also came up with a ‘State Policy on Rehabilitation of Drug Addicts’ after a high court directive. Drives to destroy cannabis were carried out every year along with other awareness campaigns and events.

But the state was ill-equipped to tackle drug addiction, activists said. According to them, the government needs to run most IRCAs on its own instead of depending on others.

Of the four functional IRCAs, only one in capital Shimla was run by the government.

With an average inpatient facility of 15 patients each, they fell woefully short of the required infrastructure.

The onus, therefore, was largely on private rehabilitation centres mushrooming across the state as new business enterprises. There are 66 such centres across the state.

Substance users emerged with traumatic tales from their time in such centres.

“From thrashings that can lead to internal haemorrhages to ‘blasting sessions’, where one is humiliated in the worst possible manner, the entire experience is a nightmare,” according to one former substance abuser.

The treatment meted out to users already low on self-esteem violated human rights in every respect, said several users.

The managements of these centres do not understand the importance of employing regular nurses, ward boys and psychiatrists, according to them.

In such centres, de-toxified users act as staff, according to some inmates, who spoke to Down To Earth.

Since these rehab centres were run as commercial enterprises, they made sure drug abusers relapsed and returned for treatment.

Those who try to tackle the drug menace in the state said there was a need for at least one ICRA in every district and a uniform standard of treatment across government and private rehabilitation centres.

The state government also failed to offer rehabilitation services and de-addiction centres in jails, according to them.

“Jails have infrastructure and doctors along with subordinate staff. Why can’t an arrested peddler or  user be detoxified during his or her stay in jail? What stops the government from making such important interventions?” ask several activists. 

It was also emphasised that users and their family members should not fear treatment.

Apart from this, agency linkages and networking needed to be strengthened, since there was an immediate need to enhance capacity in private centres.

These centres needed proper scrutiny to ensure they follow guidelines framed for IRCAs.

“An inter-disciplinary and inter-departmental approach is needed with participation of prosecution, revenue, forest, health, education, agriculture, horticulture and other departments,” said Shalini Agnihotri, an officer of the Indian Police Service.

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