Despite harsh punitive measures prescribed under law, drug offences have failed to reduce in India. Data from the ministry of social justice and empowerment show that there are over 3 million victims of various kinds of drug use in India, excluding alcohol dependents, out of the 243 million drug users in the world in 2012.

The amount of drug seizures for most drugs has increased in the past few years, as per the Narcotics Control Bureau. This is despite a minimum of 10 years rigorous imprisonment and a 1 lakh fine for drug offences. While there have been no executions as yet, capital punishment is prescribed by the Narcotics Bureau and Psychotropic Substances Act for repeat offences of drug trafficking.

“Most people arrested for drug offences are drug dependents. It is an illness arising out of poor social situations or lack of education. People go through de-addiction programmes and relapse. In Punjab, doctors have been arrested for prescribing medical substitutions to this drug problem…they have no idea what they are doing," said Anand Grover, founder member of the Lawyers Collective, a non-profit organisation that promotes human rights.

Despite the high growth rate of convictions for murder and rape, the increase in the number of convicts booked for drug abuse has been even higher. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there has been a 91.5% increase in the number of convicts booked under the drugs law over the past decade. Compare this with a 48% increase in the number of murder convicts and a 66% increase in the number of rape convicts in prison and the severity of the problem becomes clear. Even the number of under trials in prison booked under the drugs law has increased by 52.1%.

Apart from the detrimental effects of being incarcerated, drugs are the cause of an even more serious issue—drugs-related suicides. The share of drug-related suicides in total suicides in the country increased from 1.3% in 2000 to 3.4% in 2013, official data show. The growth in drug-related suicides between 2011 and 2013 was a whopping 14.5%.

The ministry of social justice and empowerment is supporting 369 NGOs running 459 counselling, awareness and de-addiction-cum-rehabilitation centres. At least 300,000 addicts register at these centres every year.

Among states, Punjab is the worst performing, as roughly 60% of all illicit drugs confiscated in India are seized there. In 2013, there were 14,654 incidences of drug-related offences in Punjab, much higher than other states. A paper by the Institute of South Asian Studies states that 40% of Punjabi youth in the age of 15 to 25 years have fallen prey to drugs, indicating that roughly 1.5 to 2 million young people are addicted to drugs.

With drug dependency being a behavioural problem, experts believe punitive action is not the solution. Instead, it is medical substitutes to drugs that can help in de-addiction. Drugs such as Methadone and Buprenorphine are often prescribed in western countries to help victims rid themselves of their addiction. However, after the crackdown on doctors prescribing these drugs in Punjab, the Punjab and Chandigarh branch of the Indian Psychiatric Society has stopped prescribing them to addicts. Currently, India prescribes Buprenorphine only for drug-related HIV problems.

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