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Northern India struggles with drug epidemic
Stephanie March reports from India's border with Pakistan.

The north Indian state of Punjab is in the midst of a drug epidemic that is threatening to destroy a generation of young men. Crack, smack, prescription pills and of course heroin are easily found on the streets of this state's cities and villages. The crisis is fuelled by an under resourced - and sometimes complicit police force struggling to stop the flow of drugs from neighboring Pakistan.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: The North-Indian state of Punjab is in the midst of a drug epidemic that's threatening to destroy a generation of young men.

Crack, prescription pills and heroin are all easily found on the streets of Punjab's cities and villages.

The crisis is not helped by an under resourced, and sometimes complicit, police force, struggling to stop the flow of drugs from neighbouring Pakistan.

India correspondent Stephanie March reports from India's border with Pakistan.

(Footage of troops on India-Pakistan Border plays)

STEPHANIE MARCH, REPORTER: India's war on drugs lies on this frontier.

DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL J S N D PRASAD, BORDER SECURITY FORCE: Frankly speaking, the drug smuggling is a big problem definitely here.

STEPHANIE MARCH: All day and all night, it's drudging work. Wheat farms on one side, a barbed wire fence on the other. A few hundred metres away is Pakistan.

On the border, these troops are searching for heroin and other drugs.

They are manufactured in Afghanistan, then transported through Pakistan before they hit the streets of India. It's a vast smuggling network involving simple Indian farmers and sophisticated criminal networks trying to find ways to get drugs past the troops and the barbed wire fence.

DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL J S N D PRASAD: So they try to throw over, that's the first method they try to employ. In case they can't succeed, they try to pump it through a pipe. They use plastic pipes to pump it through. In both the ways, if they are not able to succeed, then they go for method called they conceal it on the other side of the fence and they try to inform the persons who are near the site, so those people try to go to the site and get the things back.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Today is a good day for the Border Security Force. While we were filming with these troops, we got word their colleagues had made a bust a few kilometres away.

(Footage of farmer and heroin in shovel is shown)

This 80 year old farmer was caught coming back from his fields on the fence line. Inside this simple shovel is a kilogram of heroin with a street value of about $US15,000.

DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL J S N D PRASAD: As long as there is a demand, there is always a supplier. And those people will find means to do it. We are talking about strategies, according as they change their strategies we have to change our strategies to try our best to stop it. Our aim is to stop it definitely. But the first thing is that the demand has to reduce.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The border between Pakistan and Punjab is about 550 kilometres long. There are barbed wires the whole way down and floodlights. Despite these measures, the drugs just keep coming.

(Footage of user cooking up heroin plays)

The problem is demand is soaring.

DR P D GARG, PSYCHIATRIST, GURU NANAK DEV HOSPITAL: The problem of drug addiction is increasing day by day in Punjab.

STEPHANIE MARCH: In the villages and cities across Punjab, drug use is rampant. Here on the back streets of Maqboolpura, we found a group of men who spend most of their days getting high.

22 year old Gauri has been taking drugs for seven years.

GAURI, DURG USER (translation): I have hashish and smack. I used to have everything regularly.

STEPHANIE MARCH: He says drugs are easy to get when you know where to look. While we're talking, a man drops by to give his friend a packet of prescription pills, purchased on the black market.

GUARI (translation): We smoke a lot. All of my generation has been spoilt by smack. If I have the money, I can get it easily, especially in the border areas.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The chances of getting arrested for drug use, they say, is minimal.

It seems all too easy but you don't have to go far to see the price this community is paying.

A few hundred metres way from where these young men sit, Kanta is preparing for the day ahead. She lives in a place known as the Street of Widows. Almost 300 of the women here have lost their husbands to drugs.

KANTA, WIDOW (translation): I have two sons. One is 14 and the other 22. The first one falls sick regularly. I think it is because of his addiction. He does nothing at all. I am sure he is on drugs.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Her youngest son, Munga (phonetic), watches on as his mother breaks down. She is only 45 but the stress of living with these thoughts has aged her.

KANTA (translation): All these kids are on drugs. God knows if they will live. I pray for them. It is their lives and they are destroying it. I just pray for them.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The state government's currently doing a study to find out just how many Punjabis are addicted to drugs. Some experts worry the figure could be as high as 60 per cent of the young male population.

DR P D GARG: Previously I see 50 patients, out of which 40 patients used to be suffering from depression and sleeping disorders and 10 used to be patients with drug problems. Now I have to see 40 patients for drug addiction and 10 patients for psychiatric problems.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Dr P D Garg runs a clinic in Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Amritsar. For two decades, he's worked with hundreds of patients.

DR P D GARG: There is no doubt that the society is degenerating. The social values are degenerating. And our youth is definitely very sick.

STEPHANIE MARCH: This is an increasingly common sight. A young patient from the local jail shackled to a bed under the watchful eye of the police. He's here because of a court order to get clean but he will soon be heading straight back to prison.

But Dr Garg says often the police are part of the problem. In a recent survey done at his hospital, one in five of the patients he was treating for drug addiction were police officers.

DR P D GARG: The policemen often tell us that once they capture a haul of drugs, that it is likely he himself will become a drug addict, because when he keeps it, he gets tempted to use it and then gets hooked to it . Once he gets hooked to it, then he has to procure it. In order to procure it, he goes into this drug dealing, drug trading, drug pedalling. All these things they go simultaneously.

DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL J S N D PRASAD: These such allegations, we do take measures everywhere the forces are working. Forces are doing their job they are supposed to do. Those people who do not like forces doing this, they will make some allegation or other.

STEPHANIE MARCH: In recent years, officers with the narcotics board and Border Security Force or BSF, have been convicted and jailed over links to drug smuggling.

E N RAMMOHAN, FORMER DIRECTOR GENERAL, BORDER SECURITY FORCES: At times the BSF have been very good, no doubt, but at times there are people who have fallen on the way and got involved in smuggling. I am aware of two deputy commandants who were caught red handed accepting heroin packages from across the border.

STEPHANIE MARCH: E N Rammohan was the director general of the Border Security Force in the late 90s. He retired in 2000, but suspects members of the force are still involved in the smuggling trade.

E N RAMMOHAN: Knowing the general trend of things, I think that the amount of smuggling that's been going on and it cannot go on unless there is the involvement of the staff.

STEPHANIE MARCH: This culturally and financially rich state is facing a seemingly unwinnable battle. There are not enough rehab centres to cater for the growing number of addicts. Punjab lacks the resources and will power to stop the flow of drugs from its neighbours and internal black market.

But if it doesn't change soon, this Indian province risks losing a generation of young men to a spiralling epidemic.

E N RAMMOHAN: So we are just thinking we have to save our children. We have to save them from this.
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