The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Alcohol, cannabis top lethal addiction list

Calcutta, Jan. 5: Substance abusers in West Bengal get their high from alcohol and heroin and its derivatives. The use of injected drugs, which are more dangerous, is the highest in the north-eastern states of Manipur and Nagaland.

These are some of the findings of the first national drug abuse monitoring system report, which is based on information gathered from 203 government and non-government treatment centres spread over 23 states. The report was released by Union minister for social justice and empowerment Satyanarayan Jatiya during the inauguration of the fourth national conference on drug abuse being held here.

The report is part of a national survey on the extent, patterns and trends of drug abuse in India, to be released soon jointly by the ministry and the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). Though NGOs and government agencies have been working on the prevention and treatment of drug abuse since 1986, this official survey will be the first consolidated and comprehensive study on the problem.

Data from treatment centres, released today, is one of the eight components in the survey, the others being a study on household drug and alcohol abuse, rapid assessments, studies on women, rural and border town populations, and prison inmates.

“The consolidated report, which is almost ready, took over two years to prepare,” said its editor, Dr Rajat Ray, who is also head of the psychiatry department at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and chief of its National De-addiction Centre.

As there is no previous national study, “we are not in a position to compare drug abuse patterns of five or 10 years ago”, he pointed out. “But this much can be said that the problem of substance abuse in India is worse than in the neighbouring countries in terms of population percentage as well as absolute numbers.” Pakistan, however, has a more serious heroin addiction problem.

In a three-month period in 2000 when the survey was carried out, 16,942 drug abusers sought treatment at the 203 centres. The majority of them had been using drugs for five years or more, while only 27 per cent had ever sought treatment. Most of the treatment seekers (52 per cent) were from rural areas, while 70 per cent were employed.

Alcohol addiction is the most common problem (44 per cent), followed by cannabis (12 per cent), heroin (11 per cent) and opium (9 per cent). Goa had a high alcohol problem (84.8 per cent), followed by Meghalaya (76.7) and Andhra Pradesh (73). Of the substance abusers seeking treatment in Bengal, 34 per cent were on alcohol, and 32.1 per cent on heroin, smack and brown sugar.

Opening the three-day conference, Jatiya stressed on awareness about drug abuse at the school level. “The Centre can be the catalyst by providing funds and programmes, but the execution will have to be by NGOs.”

He said it was an irony that the excise departments of state governments were granting licences to more bars and liquor-selling outlets, while the social welfare departments were taking care of the alcoholics. “This is a fact we will have to accept.”

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