Demanding that the Government lay down standards for evidence-based, voluntary treatment for drug dependence, monitor centres that offer such treatment and increase the number of government facilities to manage drug addiction, several organisations working in the area of rehabilitation of drug users came together for the International Human Rights Day on Monday to highlight human rights violations experienced by people who use drugs in the name of treatment and rehabilitation.

The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) estimates that the number of injecting drug users in the country is over 17 lakh. There are 400 rehabilitation centres supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) and 122 drug de-addition programme at the hospital setting supported by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, requires the government to establish, maintain and supervise centres for treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare of persons who are addicted to drugs.

Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN) president Luke Samson said: “Yet the government-run centres are few and far between. As a result, a large number of unauthorised ‘de-addiction’ centres have proliferated to cash in on the desperation of drug users and their families. Instead of medical care, “punishments” are meted out to patients, inflicting severe torture and, in some cases, causing death. These incidents have come to light from all across India, most notably from Punjab, Chennai, Manipur and Delhi.”

He added: “People seem to forget that drug users are human beings first. By using drugs a person doesn’t cease to be human.”

In April 2009, Sharan (a non-government organisation working with people who use drugs) filed an application in the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking the States to frame regulations for drug dependence treatment.

Sharan highlighted the deleterious conditions prevailing in de-addiction and rehabilitation centres, where drug users are confined against their will for years together. Subsequently, under the Court’s directions, the Governments of Punjab and Haryana notified rules directing drug treatment facilities to offer evidence-based care, without coercion or compulsion. Unlicensed centres and those committing human rights violations are liable to closure, as also prosecution in some cases. Similar initiatives need to be adopted nationally, as well as in States like Manipur and Delhi where the numbers of drug users requiring treatment is high.

International Human Rights Day is annually observed on December 10 to mark the anniversary of the presentation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).


  • Over 17 lakh intravenous drug users

  • Shortage of Government-run rehabs