A 2020 Breakdown of Punjab’s Drug Problem

Punjab, the state that commends itself as being “the beginning of India”, has garnered an unfortunate reputation for itself in the past few years. Numerous incidents of death by drug abuse have brought to light the rampant problem. According to the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey, 2015 conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the estimated size of opioid dependent population in Punjab was 2,32,856. However, statistics suggest that the numbers are much more than the said figure.



two men consuming narcotic drugs on a street in India
Photo Credit: Manpreet Romana

A recent study conducted by the Department of community medicine and Department of

biochemistry at AIIMS, Patna by Randhawa A, Brar MS, Kumari B and Chaudhary N, stated that

there are an estimated 5 million heroin addicts in India. The study observed 966 drug addicts

from Punjab for their socio-demographic profiles and patterns of substance abuse for a period of

3 years. The study concluded that more than half (53.21%) of the subjects were married and

had families. The average addict was  aged 27.5 years with most subjects being illiterate and

from lower income groups. The number of subjects seeking treatment declined from 37% to a

mere 16.6% of the sample from 2015 to 2019. 


Individuals engaged in business showed high risk of drug abuse as their occupation demands

more socializing as compared to other employments. Unemployed individuals were also at high

risk getting easily persuaded by their peers, thereby gradually getting addicted due to personal

frustration. Individuals were addicted to an array of substances with heroin being the most

common followed by other opiates, alcohol, poppy husk (bhukki) and cannabis. Most users used

injections to administer the drugs while others consumed the drugs orally or by sniffling through

the nose. 


Another study from 2017 by the same department conducted by Sharma B, Arora A, Singh K,

Singh H and Kaur P studied the most common opioids used by addicts. Using a sample of 5800

individuals, the study concluded that 76% of opioid users injected buprenorphine, 76% injected

heroin and 64% injected propoxyphene. This study also found that 60% of school going

students in Punjab consumed Guthka (tobacco). Young school boys in Punjab are commonly

spotted orally consuming small black balls of opium paste, sometimes with tea. 


Opium and heroin originate from the poppy fields of Afghanistan making their way into India by

route of the Punjab and Rajasthan borders. Due to the close proximity of villages in Gurdaspur,

Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Fazilka to the Pakistan border, these drugs are often smuggled into

the country through farmers that cross the border daily to work their fields. Peddlers may also

fling large amounts of opiates over border fences to be retrieved later by an accomplice in India.

Ludhiana police reports from 2017 suggested that many farmers were found with Pakistani SIM

cards to communicate with the smugglers. Given the state of affairs due to the COVID-19

lock-down, smugglers have had to find new ways of bringing the drug into India with one route

originating from Afghanistan, reaching Africa and consequently reaching the bases of African

smugglers in Delhi. The drugs reach India and are sold by their more common street name-

Chitta. 


Recently, Special Task Force (STF) chief-cum-ADGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu said that more than

86,371 new patients had been registered for treatment at 198 different Outpatient Opioid

Assisted Treatment (OOAT) clinics across Punjab. He claimed that OOAT clinics are “complete

success and one of the most prominent efforts in addiction treatment across the world”.

The state government came up with a helpline number to create reach and awareness around

drug abuse but the problem seems to grow at a faster rate over the time.

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