Upto 2.70 lakh people in Punjab are addicted to narcotics like opium, heroin, poppy husk and synthetic drugs, a study by the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research has said.
According to the study, conducted between 2015 and 2016, one in six people in the state were dependent on one substance or the other and their use is is more common in rural areas.
"We studied the use of all substances including alcohol, tobacco, opium, charas, heroin and synthetic drugs. A high figure of their consumption has been found. But if we concentrate only on opioid dependence, a population between 1.70 to 2.70 lakh in Punjab is dependent on opium, heroin, poppy husk, buprenorphine and smack," said Professor Ajit Avasthi, head of the department of Psychiatry, PGIMER.
As much as 14.7 per cent (29.7 lakh) of total population in Punjab was estimated to be hooked on substances like alcohol, tobacco, opium, charas and heroin. One per cent was estimated to be addicted to opioids including synthetic drugs, according to the study.
The highest prevalence of substance abuse was found in Mansa district (39 per cent of the population) while the minimum prevalence was in Ferozepur district with eight per cent.
The study also found growing usage of injectable opioids like heroin and buprenorphine in the Union Territory and state capital Chandigarh.
About 7,000 people, mainly youths, were dependent on such opioids, said Avasthi. "We have seen a trend in Chandigarh in which injectable opioids were most commonly being used. This is a health hazard. Among them, buprenorphine was the commonest type."
The study, by the PGIMER's department of Psychiatry, was funded by the Centre's Department of Health Research and conducted under the supervision of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said Avasthi.
"Through this study, we wanted to know to what extent, the drug problem was prevalent in Punjab and what kinds of drugs are being used in the state," said Avasthi.
The study claimed to have covered all 22 districts of Punjab, using two methodologies -- household survey and rapid assessment survey. It selected an age group of 11-60 years for the study.
Avasthi said the estimates of the latest study have surpassed the estimates of previous studies conducted on opioid dependence. "This is a serious problem."
He blamed the availability of drugs, lack of regulation as well as social reasons for the problem in Punjab.
"There is a need to plug the availability of drugs, regulation of drugs should be made better and youth should be encouraged to education and sports activities," he said.
The drug menace in Punjab also acquired political overtones, becoming one of the the main issues in the 2017 Assembly polls in the state.
The previous SAD-BJP regime in the state had been blamed for the problem by the Congress and AAP ahead of the polls.
The Congress had promised during its poll campaign to wipe out the menace within four weeks of coming to power.