The shortage of psychiatrists and other health specialists will prove to be major obstacle in the Punjab government’s ambitious plan to root out the drug menace from the state. When it took office on March 17, the Congress government reiterated its election promise to “end the drug menace in four weeks”. Since then, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and officials have repeated the promise several times. But if the deadline was unrealistic to begin with, it is beginning to look increasingly so now, at the end of the government’s first two weeks. In a statement Friday, the state’s information department said the government’s reactivation of the 24×7 drug helpline that had gone dead under the continue Badal government had yielded 240 tip-offs, and the police had booked 497 drugs traders and peddlers from March 16-29, registering in all 449 cases under the NDPS Act.
“Captain Amarinder said he had directed the police and intelligence departments involved in the crackdown on drugs to reach out to the people even more aggressively in the coming days to take their support in realising his government’s goal of wiping out the drugs menace from the state in four weeks,” the statement said. The previous government had arrested 30,000 people, but with no perceptible difference to the supply chain for narcotics or the number of addicts. The new government has said its approach will be different as it will treat addicts “humanely”. That, officials in the Directorate of Health Services said, would require a vast army of health specialists, including psychiatrists, who play a key role in the rehabilitation process of those who have undergone the de-addiction treatment.
Against the sanctioned posts of 63 psychiatrists in the Punjab government medical service, the state’s has only 34 at present. “We have been holding walk-in interviews almost every alternative month. There is a shortage. No psychiatrist wants a government job because it is not remunerative. If at all they join, they want to be posted in Chandigarh or other cities closer to the capital,” said an official of Health department. He said every rehabilitation centre has two sanctioned posts of psychiatrists, but due to the shortage, there was only one psychiatrist to each centre.
The last interview was conducted last month after seeking special permission from the Election Commission. Five applicants were chosen, but only two joined. The government has not issued orders to the department to hold any more interviews or to expedite the appointment of psychiatrists at its rehabiliation centres. But it has instructed the health department to ensure 100 per cent occupancy in the rehabilitation centres. Health officials said it would take at least six months to ensure all the beds in the rehab centres are occupied. “We have been asked to rope in the NGOs as it can only be done with public-private participation. We need at least six months. It cannot be done in four weeks in any way. First week has already gone and we are in the process of updating our database from all 37 centres, “ said a functionary of health department.
There are 22 rehab centres in Punjab, one in every district except Pathankot. The centres in Nawanshahar and Ropar are non-functional. Of the 1.49 lakh drug addicts reporting to de-addiction centres across the state in 2016, only 7,708 got admitted in the rehabilitation centres, as per the data available with the health department. “This is a big challenge. We also need to keep a tab on how many dropped out mid-treatment and the cases of relapse,” the official said. The health department does not have the data on drop-outs and relapse cases. That is a long haul, say the functionaries. There are 32 drug de-addiction centres having 10-20 beds for indoor patients and five bigger centres with 50 beds each.