Thirty drug-related deaths in about 30 days. That’s what it took for Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to announce on July 4 that all government employees would have to take an annual test to confirm that they are drug-free. The move will make Punjab the first State to conduct a dope test, including on police personnel.
Mr. Singh ordered the tests, done free of cost, on all government employees, applicable from recruitment through every stage of service.
In the last year alone, the State government arrested 18,977 drug peddlers and treated over two lakh drug-dependent individuals. Over 3,900 convicts under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and 5,610 undertrials are in prison.
“A tender has been placed for five lakh test kits. We have made dope testing mandatory for a weapons licence. Our mechanism and facilities at the district level are in order and as soon as the notification is out, we will start conducting tests on employees,” Satish Chandra, Additional Chief Secretary (ACS), Health and Family Welfare told, The Hindu .
“The government will take a considered view. A committee of experts could be set up to discuss the implications,” said a senior official. “Before releasing the notification, we would like to ensure there is a clear distinction between drugs taken as medicine and those taken as an intoxicant. There are a lot of people who take drugs on prescription and if they take the test the result would be positive, with unfair implications.”
The test to detect the presence of psychoactive drugs is usually conducted on a urine sample. An initial screening test gives instant results, but a confirmatory test, which is more complex, is more reliable.
Dr. Sandeep Bhola, associated with Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment in Punjab, says that government should ensure the dope test results are kept “confidential” to avoid social stigma.
The kits can trace presence of marijuana, codeine, barbiturates, morphine, cocaine, tramadol and buprenorphine for 5 to 6 days after they have been consumed.
Punjab’s Health Minister Brahm Mohindra says that the government wants to eliminate the menace from every section of society.
The Punjab Cabinet earlier decided to recommend the death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers. The State government has also started the Drug Abuse Prevention Officers’ (DAPOs) Programme, aimed at civil society participation.
“Everyone, right from the Chief Secretary to the Director General of Police to employees of all ranks will be tested,” says Mr. Mohindra.
Basic kit at ₹500
“The cost of a screening kit is around ₹500. The State has about 3,50,000 employees and we expect to spend about ₹20-25 crore,” he says. A confirmatory test would raise the expenditure manifold.
While many employees don’t see a problem with a test, some see it as a move to deflect attention from the recent drug related deaths.
“We welcome the test but it should be done for everyone who draws salary from the exchequer. Let legislators and MPs be covered,” says Sukhchain Singh Khaira, president, Punjab Civil Secretariat Staff Association.
AAP MLA Aman Arora from Sunam got tested in Mohali. He wanted mandatory tests for MLAs and MPs. Capt. Amarinder Singh said he was willing to be tested.