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Posted at: Jun 29, 2018, 2:15 AM; last updated: Jun 30, 2018, 1:58 AM (IST)

Anger, fear in Punjab as June sees 23 deaths from drugs

Jupinderjit Singh

Tribune News Service

Kotkapura/Tarn Taran/Amritsar, June 28

It’s still two days to go before June ends, but Punjab has already recorded a staggering 23 deaths from an overdose of drugs this month. Many working with NGOs and de-addiction centres told The Tribune as its team fanned out across Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Kotkapura that it’s a “national scandal” that’s tearing lives and families apart. 

They have a point. There were 17 deaths in just the last two weeks — that’s one life snuffed out every passing day. And it’s leaving grieving families in village after village struggling with rage, sadness and anxiety.

In a heart-wrenching video that went viral recently,  a helpless woman can be seen wailing next to the lifeless body of her son, a drug addict, asking him to get up so that she can make rotis for him. He lay in a heap of garbage in Jeewan Nagar, Kotkapura, a syringe still stuck in his veins. 

It’s a scene that’s being played out with unnerving frequency across the state. Some 200 km away in Cheharta, Amritsar, a father mourned his 23-year-old son. Motil Lal Kalsi said he found the young man doubled-over in a room of the house. “He was so young,” Kalsi whispered.

Shockingly, the body of Karan Kalsi, a fair youth, had turned black — as if something had burnt it from inside.

Initial investigations by the police have revealed that it is the deadly cocktail of adulterated heroin mixed with other substances — called “cut” in local parlance — that is proving to be deadly to drug addicts in Punjab. It is this that is turning the body stiff and black. An expert The Tribune spoke with said some of the dead men had bodies that felt like “cement”.

There is unprecedented fear in families that ‘cut’ is causing and the police know it. DGP Suresh Arora said, “All IGs, DIGs of ranges and CPs have been asked to probe each of the recent cases. They have also been directed to take effective action against drug smugglers and suppliers so that there is no easy availability. There will also be renewed focus on prosecution.”

Asked how such incidents could be prevented, he said, “The police will work closely with the Health Department as well as civil society groups in the field of de-addiction and rehabilitation of drug addicts.”

Harpreet Sidhu, ADGP-cum-Director, Special Task Force, said, “These deaths have apparently happened from street-level peddling of drugs. It is mainly the area of the district police to combat this. On the part of the STF, we have cut the main supply lines due to which there is decreased flow of heroin and other drugs.  We are analysing each death.”

In drastic action, the Punjab Police even registered a case of murder against the accused in Amma Khurd when a man died from drug overdose. The police crime dairy said the accused — suppliers — sold the banned substance to the victim for a mere Rs 300.

But few are convinced anything will happen anytime soon. As a sea of grief and anger sweeps the state, people have begun to ask tough questions from the government. “Punjab won the war against terrorism. But it is losing to drugs,” said Kalsi. Others said that the 23 drugs-overdose deaths were just official, recorded ones. “There may have been more,” he added. 

In Tarn Taran, an epicentre of sorts, the mood is despondent. Dhotian village, whose youth, according to local folklore, beat the British in a tug-of-war match in 1920, is the same now that showed a little boy in a video that went viral recently asking his dead father to wake up and take him to school. Many cried that day. “But for the video, this death, too, would have gone unnoticed,” said Paramjit Singh, an ex-sarpanch of the village.

What is ‘cut’

ADGP Harpreet Sidhu says as per experts, ‘cut’ is not a new drug, but an adulterated form of heroin. It is like injecting cement in one’s body. It reacts so fast that the victim can’t even take out the syringe and dies instantly.” Dr Rajiv Gupta, a psychiatrist, says: “Heroin is rarely available in pure form. A number of substances are added to it. The ‘cut’ includes the worst substances. It includes any kind of white powder which causes immediate clots and sudden deaths.” 

"All IGs/DIGs have been told to probe the recent cases. They have been directed to act against drug smugglers to choke the supply chain. We will work closely with the Health Department towards de-addiction and rehabilitation of addicts." Suresh Arora, DGP Punjab

"The recent incidents happened due to street-level peddling. We have cut the supply due to which there is a decreased flow of heroin. We recently busted a gang, which was supplying adulterated heroin called ‘cut’ procured from Africans in Delhi." Harpreet Sidhu, ADGP and Director, STF

(With inputs from Balwant Garg in Faridkot; Gurbaxpuri in Tarn Taran; and Pawan Jaiswar and Charanjit Teja in Amritsar)

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