In a pilot project, Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has undertaken a counting exercise of drug abusers in Maharashtra, Punjab and Manipur

The figures are hazy, but India’s drug abusers are not so inconspicuous anymore. From street corners to dark alleys, in school rooms to the living rooms of the well heeled and the educated — drug abuse is no longer India’s well kept secret; it has in fact sounded an alarm, prompting the government to count and identify drug abusers.

The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, has already embarked on a counting exercise in the three States of Maharashtra, Punjab and Manipur — where drug abuse is perceived to have reached endemic proportions. Concurrently, it has stepped up efforts to undertake a mass awareness drive to educate people about the perils of drug abuse.

“The first step is to reach out to people, our role is not legal or enforcement, our role in eradicating the problem is to educate people, motivate them to give up drug and seek help for de-addiction, followed by rehabilitation with the families and society at large,” said T.R. Meena, Joint Secretary in the Ministry.

Yesterday, that is June 26 which has been declared as the ‘International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking’, the Ministry gave away the first National Award for prevention of Alcoholism and Substance (Drug) Abuse. “The idea behind the award is to recognise the efforts and encourage excellence in the field of prevention of substance abuse and rehabilitation of its victims,” said Mr. Meena.

A cash purse and a citation were given in three categories: best educational institution, best research or innovation and outstanding individual achievement by a professional.

Absence of authentic data on the prevalence of drug abuse, the number of people affected and its impact on socio-economic aspects has been a trigger for the Ministry to push for a survey. “It is being taken very seriously that India does not have any reliable data on drug abusers. With the pilot survey being undertaken in three areas, we are making an attempt to find out the exact numbers, pattern of abuse, the kinds of drugs being used and the areas that are the worst affected. The survey is expected to be complete by the end of the year and will be an indicator to seek out the extent of the problem,” said Mr. Meena.

An earlier survey carried out in 2001 by the Ministry, in association with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, has been dismissed as unreliable, since it included alcoholism and the survey was based on a sample size of just 4,000.

“The numbers [drug abusers] including the alcoholics was about 6.25 crore, with 8.7 million being drug abusers and 22 lakh being users of cannabis and others such substances. But this was not considered reliable, because it left out several categories like truck drivers, brothels, street kids and what are considered as ‘hotspots’,” Mr. Meena explained.

The Ministry is now banking on the pilot survey to lay the ground fora pan-India exercise that will map the extent of the problem and also help frame policy to curb the problem.

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