The State’s drug crisis has acquired another dimension following a steady increase in the number of female addicts. Vikas Vasudeva reports on the toll substance abuse has taken on the lives and families of these women and the infrastructural support needed to help them
Jasmeet works as a domestic help in Jalandhar. She has been a regular visitor at a drug de-addiction centre in Kapurthala since 2014. Along with her, her husband and their only daughter are also undergoing treatment for heroin addiction. Cases of whole families being compulsive consumers of drugs are not uncommon in today’s Punjab.
As the daily dose of the drug — a fraction of a gram — helped Jasmeet to keep up her energy levels, she found it to be a support in helping her cope with her workload. At the time, she was earning Rs. 6,000-7,000 a month.This is a story of one of many such addicts in Punjab.
recent study, titled “Epidemiology of substance use and dependence in the state of Punjab, India: Results of a household survey on a statewide representative sample” — by the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and published in March 2018 in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry — says that in Punjab, almost 4.1 million people have been found to have used a substance (licit or illicit) at least once in their lifetime. Among the lifetime users, four million were men and around 0.1 million women. The number of people dependent on a substance in their lifetime was 3.2 million (3.1 million men and 0.1 million women). Licit substances consist of alcohol and tobacco, while illicit substances include opioids, cannabinoids, inhalants, stimulants, and sedatives.
Opioids (heroin, smack, crude opium, poppy husk) were by far the most commonly used illicit drugs in the State. In the study, there were around 2,02,817 males and 10,658 females who displayed “lifetime dependence” on opioids as per World Health Organisation criteria. Interestingly, while 1,56,942 males were “currently dependent” on opioids, the corresponding figure for females remained the same (at 10,658), which experts find alarming.
“It is alarming because while the number of men who are ‘currently dependent’ on opioids is substantially less when compared to the number for ‘lifetime dependence’, in the case of women, the figures for the two categories are the same. That ‘current dependence’ among men is less when compared to ‘lifetime dependence’ suggesting that a large number of those who use and become dependent on opioids eventually break out of the drug habit. That is why a smaller proportion is currently dependent. With women, on the other hand, those using opioids become dependent on them, and will not or cannot stop using them. They continue using it in a dependent pattern, which is deeply worrying,” says Dr. Subodh B.N. from the Department of Psychiatry at the PGIMER.
He points out most women do not come forward for treatment fearing social stigma, which means that the actual number of women addicts is likely to be higher. “Exclusive treatment centres for women will definitely help,” he say