Over the years, the menace of drug abuse in Punjab has majorly stressed on men. But recent studies highlight that there has been an ‘alarming’ rise in the number of women addicted to drugs in the state.

Experts cite social stigma, state of denial and lack of exclusive facilities as the major reasons why women are not reaching out for help.

The Punjab Government has been giving varied treatment options for the youth. However, these facilities focused primarily on males. The state has a total 31 government de-addiction centers. But, only one exclusive centre is  available for women. In 2017, the single de-addiction centre was established in Kapurthala.

Dr. Subodh B.N., department of Psychiatry in the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, spoke to The Hindu on the issue. He said, “On the basis of clinical experience, I can safely say that the problem of drug abuse among women is increasing in Punjab. The national survey on drug abuse happened around 15 years back, where there was no mention of females, but now their numbers are figuring in surveys, which itself is indicative of the rising problem of drug abuse.”

Surging Cases

In March 2018, a study -‘Epidemiology of Substance Use and Dependence in the State of Punjab’- was published. The study states that almost 4.1 million people in Punjab use one substance or the other (legit or illicit) at least once in their lifetime. While 4 million were men, 0.1 million consisted of women lifetime users.

Dr. Subodh added, “While 15 years back, we used to hardly see any drug-related cases of females, of late we are treating 15-20 women patients per annum. Moreover, amid fear of stigma, most women do not come forward for treatment, which means the actual numbers are likely to be higher. These rising numbers is indeed worrying. An urgent attention is required to address the problem.”

According to the study, 2,02,817 men and 10,658 women were found to be ‘lifetime dependent’ on opioids as per ICD-10 criteria. Surprisingly, while 1,56,942 males were found to be ‘currently dependent’ on opioids, the number of women reached to 10,658. The experts believe it is “alarming” and requires immediate attention.

In 2014-15, the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS), found 1% of women to be opioid dependants. The data for analysis was gathered from 3,620 opioid-dependent individuals across 10 districts.

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Dr Sandeep Bhola, who is associated with Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment in Kapurthala, spoke to The Hindu about the increasing cases. He said, “The figures of this study seem to be the micro-tip of an iceberg, as these were cases that came at least once to the treatment facility. So we can very well imagine that there must be a large number which never ever sought any help.”

“The two main reasons for this seem to be social stigma and lack of exclusive facilities for females,” he added.

Limited Help – One centre to curb menace

Since July 2017, merely 15 women have undergone treatment at the government’s single de-addiction centre for women, adds Dr Bhola.

He says, “Two women are currently under treatment. If more such centres are opened, it will help address this rising problem.”

Patiala has a privately operated centre, ‘The Navjivan rehabilitation centre’, at Daulatpur. Though the centre is only for males, it has been witnessing an increase in queries on treatment of female drug addicts.

Rohit Puri, centre in-charge, said, “We suggest they go to Delhi or Amritsar where there are private centers exclusively for women, which can offer them privacy.”

Puri added that female patients come from various sections of society. He explained, “Only last month a woman aged around 35 had come to our centre for consultation. She was addicted to opioid substances and belonged to a conservative family. Females from liberal family backgrounds also get in touch with us for treatment.”

Earlier in 2001, The Institute for Development and Communication conducted a study in Punjab. It had revealed that consumption of poppy husk (bhukki), tablets and capsules were most popular amongst women.

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Megha Thadani is an Intern with Shethepeople.tv

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