Data from ‘National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India’ released by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on Monday shows that prevalence of opioid use is India is three times the global average — 2.06 per cent in India against 0.70 per cent globally.
In 2004, when the last national-level official survey was conducted, opium was the major opioid used by men in India. The latest official survey estimates that even as overall opioid use is higher than in 2004, the use of heroin has surpassed opium as the most commonly used opioid.
“Prevalence of heroin has increased and opium has reduced which means the supply control strategies are not proportional to the harmful impact of the drug. The extent of use of less harmful substances, which are legal and less potent, is mostly stable but there has been an exponential increase in heroin use,” said Dr Atul Ambekar, who heads the AIIMS, New Delhi, team that carried out the survey. The survey also shows that prevalence of alcohol and cannabis use is lower than global average.
The 2004 survey did not include state-level data and data on female users. If only the opioid use in men is considred, there is a more than five times increase from 0.7 per cent in 2004 to 3.97 per cent in 2019.
Union minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, said the report will serve as a very significant document to inform policy measures required to control drug supply, demand, and remedial measures. The 2019 report states, “It is evident that a sizable population in India is affected by substance use disorders and is in need of urgent help. Reach of the government programmes for the treatment of substance use disorders is grossly inadequate.”
As per the survey, after the states in the Northeast, the highest prevalence of opioid use and opioid use disorders is recorded in Punjab. A similar 2016 study of the ministry on the extent of drug use in Punjab, also conducted by AIIMS, was never accepted by the Union government. Vijay Sampla, MoS, Social Justice and then Punjab BJP chief, had dismissed the report as not being authentic and said the ministry will commission a nationwide study on the issue.
“All the noise about Punjab being badly affected over last few years, there is some truth in that. But the point we have tried to make is that besides Punjab, there are other states with a sizeable problem,” said Dr Ambekar. He pointed that Sikkim has the highest prevalence of sedatives and pharmaceutical drug problem, Tripura and Chhattisgarh show a huge alcohol problem.