Even though its state government finds it hard to address or even accept it, that Punjab has a drug abuse problem is widely known. However, recent government data shows that this is not limited to the North Indian state.

Data tabled before the Rajya Sabha on Thursday during the ongoing Monsoon session of the Parliament showed that India records about 10 suicides due to drug or alcohol addiction. The data, provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, showed that the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are at the top of the table of drug-related suicides.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 3,647 such suicide cases in India in 2014, of which Maharashtra reported the highest, at 1,372. This was followed by Tamil Nadu, with 552 cases and Kerala, with 475.

Punjab reported 38 such cases. However, as calculations by Scroll.in show, the incidence of drug-related suicides – the number of cases divided by the population – in the state was much lower than the national average.

State of states

As the chart shows, this comes to about 1.4 suicides per million people, based on the population of Punjab as per the 2011 Census. In comparison, the national average is three suicides per million of the population. The drug-related suicide rate in Kerala, for instance, is at least 10 times as high as in Punjab.

Meanwhile, the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands stands out as an outlier with almost 37 such instances in a population of just about three lakh.

Scroll.in’s calculations show that though Maharashtra may have reported the highest number of drug-related suicides in the country, Kerala topped the list in terms of incidence rate.

Additionally, at least 12 states and Union Territories had a higher incidence of these cases than the national average. These include Haryana, Telangana, Mizoram and Tripura. The national capital of Delhi, however, reported only 2 cases per million people.

Not the whole story

In a silver lining of sorts, the number of drug-related suicides in India in 2014, though still high, had reduced since 2012 and 2013. There were more than 4,000 cases in 2012 and in the subsequent year, it shot up to 4,500. More than 25,000 people committed suicides due to drug abuse in the 10-year period between 2004 and 2013, according to National Crime Records Bureau. A study by the United Nations estimated that drug abuse killed more than two lakh people in the world in 2014.

The National Crime Records Bureau data, however, doesn’t reflect the prevalence of drug abuse in the country. It only compiles suicides that were reported to the police and where the cause was established as drug or alcohol abuse. The actual number of deaths due to abuse is estimated to be much higher. And the number of drug users will be several times more.

It also doesn’t take away from the gravity of the drug use problem in Punjab, one that the state government has vehemently tried to downplay or deny. In a recent video campaign, the Shiromani Akali Dal–Bharatiya Janata Party combine tried to dispel concerns about it by having the hockey captain claim it doesn’t exist.

The state is also seeing resistance from its own officials in implementing a scientific programme to reduce drug abuse even as official surveys have shown that there are more than 10 lakh drug addicts in the state. According to a report in the Times of India, officials said the state’s image will take a hit if the project moves ahead and “criticism from outside” is holding up the implementation of the programme.