The number of calls received at the National Toll-Free Helpline, which is run by the central government to assist the alcoholic and drug dependent persons, more than doubled in 2017 after taking a massive dip in 2016. The helpline has also started transferring calls to hospitals from November, 2017.
The service was launched by Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment on January 7, 2015. It received 48,061 calls during 2015, which dipped to 21,244 calls during 2016. During 2017, the number of calls that are coming to this helpline increased by 107 per cent to 44,124. During November and December of 2017, three and 15 calls were transferred to the hospitals, respectively.
While in 2015, only four phones were operational at this helpline, 17 phones are currently operational at this helpline, according to the information provided by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in response to an application filed under Right to Information Act, 2005. The service was started after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his radio programme ‘Mann ki Baat’ on December 14, 2014, desired setting up of a Toll Free Helpline to assist the alcoholic and drug dependent persons, their family members and community at large.
Modi said in his radio speech: “We have to work together as a society to tackle this menace. I understand that the youth who fall into this drug trap are often blamed. …Let us get rid of this habit of addiction and not victimize our kids. Blaming the kids would push them further into addiction. This is in fact a psycho-socio-medical issue and let us treat it as such a problem. This menace needs to be handled carefully as its solution is not limited to medical intervention only. The individual concerned, his family, friends, the society, the government and the legal system all have to work in tandem to tackle this menace.”
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is the nodal ministry for drug demand reduction and rehabilitation of victims of alcoholism and drug abuse. The National Toll-Free helpline has been made with technical support from state-run engineering and consultancy firm Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL). In the first two months of its existence, the helpline operated from 9.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. It was upgraded to 24×7 helpline from March 1, 2017.
“While serving as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, my officers with good records would often come to ask for leave. Initially they would hesitate to spell out the reasons, however on insisting they revealed that their child had fallen into the drug trap and they now need to spend time with their kids and rehabilitate them. I could see the bravest of my officers struggling to control their tears. I met suffering mothers too. In Punjab I had the chance to meet some mothers who were very angry and yet concerned about their children who had fallen into the trap of drugs,” Prime Minister stated on December 14, 2014.
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