An experienced rehab specialist, Dr Jagdeep Pal Bhatia runs the Hermitage De-addiction Home for Women in Amritsar. He says the women dimension of the drug abuse problem has remained under the radar for too long, and now needs attention. Exceprts from an interview:
How did Punjab’s drug problem get so bad?
It’s always been there in Punjab but the number of addicts increased from 1991 when large quantities of heroin started to be smuggled across the border. In the early 2000s, people thought it was a minor problem and could be tackled with a few arrests but it was a ticking time bomb. Today, drug addiction is not going down and we have not been successful in eradicating the menace.
What about addiction among women in Punjab?
More and more women are abusing all types of drugs, from heroin to opium to cocaine to weed or tablets like Tramadol. A majority of them are using cocktails. The problem is denial. It is only when medical reports come out that they admit to doing drugs.
What are the causative factors for this?
The causes are many. Many get hooked to drugs after being forced by boyfriends or other friends. Some like to be in the happening circuit who feel that not doing drugs makes them uncool while there are others who take to drugs due to reasons like sexual abuse in childhood, incest, trauma. In some cases, we also found that children were doing drugs just because their parents were also drug addicts. In a few cases, entire families are drug addicts.
How can this problem be addressed?
In my opinion, families play a major role in this. They need to accept that women in the family who abuse drugs need care and medical treatment. Instead of living in denial, they should come out and get treated before it is too late. Also the authorities need to take more concrete steps to stop sale of these drugs. All our patients tell us that they get heroin, opium very easily.
What more needs to be curb drug addiction in women?
There have to be more women-only rehab centres because women need privacy. There has to be a systematic approach and it will be possible only when families, doctors and counsellors work in tandem. First and foremost, people have to start accepting that yes, there is a problem. If not, we will fail in this war.