Men waiting in front of Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) center, Amritsar
Punjab, once India’s most prosperous states, the fertile land of the five rivers and nation’s bread basket has to struggle with a serious problem that is now reaching epidemic proportions. Punjab’s well-documented drug abuse problem is a half-told story. It’s always been about the men. But the distaff side of the state’s ugly truth, the spread of the problem to women, has not been focused upon quite as much.
With de-addiction centers around the state reporting increasing incidence of drug abuse by women, it’s slowly revealing its contours. And as with other problems affecting women, it’s layered over with stigma and denial. Critics say the administration, which continues to deny the state's drug epidemic, seems to have turned a blind eye towards the female addicts. The 31 drug rehabilitation centers run by the Punjab government are usually avoided by people, especially women, as they are ill-equipped and often lack basic amenities.
Early morning at the Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) center in Guru Nanak Dev Hospital; a government run hospital, I saw a long queue of men from different ages; mostly laborers waiting for the clinic to open. They stand here for a drug substitute provided free to them to suppress the withdrawal symptoms after every 24 hours.
They herd themselves in front of the clinic at 6 in the morning; while it opens at 8. The nurses manually feed the drug to them instead of handing it out to them, ensuring that they don’t spit it out and mix with water to inject the medicine to get high. That would defeat the entire purpose of this exercise. Such cases have happened in the past, in fact there have been instances of men breaking into the clinic to steal the supply and use it as an injection.
I noticed there was not even a single woman in the queue. On enquiring, I was told there are very few addicts and they come later in the day to avoid rush and more importantly, derogatory comments from men.