Other States

Studies point to rising drug abuse among women in Punjab

A wake-up call: A file photo of inmates at a drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre in Daulatpur village on the outskirts of Patiala.

A wake-up call: A file photo of inmates at a drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre in Daulatpur village on the outskirts of Patiala.  

Social stigma and lack of exclusive facilities deter them from seeking help, say doctors.

The problem of drug abuse in Punjab over the years has largely been focused on males even as experts and studies point out that the number of women addicted to drugs is rising “alarmingly” in the State.

Social stigma, state of denial and lack of exclusive facilities are the key reasons why women are not seeking help, experts have pointed out.

The State government has been providing various treatment options for the youth, primarily focused on males. Punjab has 31 government de-addiction centres but there’s only one centre exclusively for women — in Kapurthala — that was set up in 2017.

“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,” Dr. Subodh B.N. from the department of Psychiatry in the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh told The Hindu.

‘20 cases every year’

“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,” said Dr. Subodh.

The recent study titled ‘Epidemiology of Substance Use and Dependence in the State of Punjab’, by the faculty of PGIMER, published in March 2018 in an indexed international journal, says that in Punjab almost 4.1 million people have been found to be using one substance or the other (licit or illicit) at least once in their lifetime. Among the lifetime users, 4 million were men and around 0.1 million were women. Number of people dependent on any substance in their lifetime was 3.2 million, with 3.1 million men and 0.1 million women.

Licit substances consist of alcohol and tobacco, and illicit substances are opioids, cannabinoids, inhalants, stimulants, and sedatives. In terms of projected numbers, there were about 4.1 million lifetime users of licit substances and for illicit substances, the corresponding figure was 0.5 million.

Opioids (heroin, smack, crude opium, poppy husk etc) were by far the most commonly used illicit drugs in the State. As per the study, 2,02,817 males and 10,658 females were found to be ‘lifetime dependent’ on opioids as per ICD-10 criteria. Interestingly, while 1,56,942 males were found to be ‘currently dependent’ on opioids (as per ICD-10 criteria) the figure of females was 10,658, which the experts believe is “alarming” and needs to be addressed urgently.

Apart from the PGIMER study, the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS), 2014-15, which exclusively focussed on opioid dependence, found 1% of females to be opioid dependants. The data was collected from a total of 3,620 opioid-dependent individuals across 10 districts.

Based on analysis of the data, and after projecting these figures to the total population of the State, the size of opioid-dependent population in Punjab was estimated at 2,32,856.

“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,” Dr. Sandeep Bhola, associated with Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment in Kapurthala, told The Hindu. “The two main reasons for this seem to be social stigma and lack of exclusive facilities for females,” says Dr. Bhola.

Only one centre

He adds that at the government’s sole de-addiction centre for women in Kapurthala, as many as 15 women have undergone treatment since July 2017. “Two women are currently under treatment. If more such centres are opened, it will help address this rising problem,” says Dr. Bhola.

The Navjivan rehabilitation centre at Daulatpur in Patiala, which is privately run, has been witnessing an increase in queries on treatment of female drug addicts even though the centre caters only to males.

Rohit Puri, who is in charge of the centre, says: “We suggest they go to Delhi or Amritsar where there are private centres, exclusively for women, which can offer them privacy.”

Mr. Puri says that the female patients come from varied sections of society — rich, poor, educated and uneducated. “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,” he adds.

Another study on Punjab, conducted by The Institute for Development and Communication (2001), which covered eight districts of Punjab namely Patiala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozpur, Muktsar and Hoshiarpur, had revealed that consumption of poppy husk (bhukki), tablets and capsules were most popular amongst women.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 3:52:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/studies-point-to-rising-drug-abuse-among-women-in-punjab/article24671704.ece

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