The “drug problem” in Punjab is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. While the censorship row over Udta Punjab and the impending state assembly elections may merit a separate discussion, it is important to address the problem of drug abuse in the state in a focused way. A remark made by Rahul Gandhi in 2012 — that 7 out of 10 youth in Punjab have a drug problem — first thrust the national spotlight on the state’s struggles. The problem, of course, goes much further back for Punjab, which has long been a transit point for trafficking, especially of heroin from Iran and Afghanistan. What’s more recent is the matter of drug abuse.
Several studies have pointed to a range of economic factors responsible for the transformation of Punjab into a regional drug market, driven by the increasing consumption of a diverse range of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Even though Punjab is ranked as a relatively prosperous state, with per capita income well above and poverty levels noticeably below the national average, unemployment and an agrarian crisis have been highlighted as being at the root of several socio-economic problems of the region. The increasing drug use and peddling among the population, particularly the youth, has been attributed to a lack of gainful employment opportunities, driving them towards the more profitable venture of drug dealing. Indeed, the promise offered by the green revolution and its subsequent failure to deliver in Punjab has been well documented.