“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx

Environment Health

Drugs and Indian Society


In a nearly 80%-Hindu-majority country, where Hinduism disapproves of illegal drug use (other than perhaps a small exemption for the cannabis plant which offered shade to Lord Shiva), it is still not unusual to see a heroin needle on the ground in Delhi, or to overhear some conversation about the quality of hash up in Darjeeling (Al Jazeera 2015). While there is still some debate on the harm of recreational and private usage of small amounts of drugs, there is little-to-no dissent on the consensus that regular, repeated, and addictive drug use patterns are harmful to the individual and society. But drug use in India is most often pushed away from the public sphere of discussion due to bad stigma surrounding it and perhaps for this reason, along with lacking, limited and at times antiquated policies on illegal drugs, drug abuse and misuse crises permeate Indian society without much recourse. For this reason, an inventory needs to be taken of the resources that are being created and offered for drug-users, potential drug-users, recovering drug-users, and families and friends of drug-users in India for the case in which this drug use becomes dangerous. Some of these resources could include policies, treatment centers, education, and funding for NGOs among other things. Before this happens, comprehensive data collection should be administered and released publicly so that top scholars and government officials can contribute to the solution-making process.

Data Collection  

In a step in the right direction, The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act ammendment of 2012 requires a survey to be administered every 5 years "on the extent and pattern of substance use" (PTI 2016). According to the Indian Express, no such survey has been implemented as of yet, but results are likely to come out in 2018 from a survey administered by the All India Institute of Medical Science. A few surveys have been administered on small scale in the recent past including two in Delhi: one by the Delhi Aids Control Society and a joint study by the Women and Child Development Department and AIIMS (Rebbapragada 2017). Citizens and government officials alike, should push for ethical and comprehensive drug-use data collection to gauge the purview of the drug-related problems that Indian society is facing.  


India on one hand has "harsh drug control laws [that] conform strictly with prohibition" and on the other, "alarmingly high rates of drug dependence [in some places]" (Tandon 2015). An important question to ask is: What drug policies does India have and how are they enforced? And another: Are the prohibitive laws encouraging the rampant drug use?

While the act has been amended many times up through 1995, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940 is still effective in India as per section 80 of the slightly less but still very antiquated main drug legislation in India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 (NDPS). The most recent update of NDPS being in 2014.

Punitive Measures  

While drug laws are strict and drug dependence at high, levels of drug-related arrests are very low. Under the drug laws in India for 2012, 29,247 cases were reported as compared to about a million in the US, a country barely a quarter the size of India. Less than 30 articles have been published on reputable news sites in India about drug arrests since the year started, whereas for most countries this number is not countable. Clearly, it is not a main focus. And with high levels of corruption in India, it is unclear whether these statistics are reliable.

At the same time, outcomes of punitive measures for drug use are unclear. In a widely cited article regarding general criminal justice policy, two scholars from Canada cite that, "increasing punitive measures have failed to reduce criminal recidivism and instead have led to a rapidly growing correctional system that has strained government budgets" (Andrews and Bonta 2010). While perhaps not purposefully, India's failure to manifest existing policies into actual arrests may be better than the alternative.

Remedial Measures

India's 1985 drug policy does indeed allow for a one-time immunity for arrestees (not charged with any other crimes) voluntarily admitting themselves to a recognized treatment center so long as they complete the full length of the treatment. This does not account for the fact, however, that some people may not have financial, physical, or other access to such a treatment center. And effective administration of this clause of the policy is unclear. And because drug arrests are so low, the amount of people that this clause would effect may be very low.  

The Scheme for Strengthening of Drug De-Addiction Services (DDAP) was created in India 1985-86 and has opened 483 detoxification and 90 counselling centers in India but, "success of the [program] is low and states fail to adequately fund them according to health care professionals" (Prasad 2009). Many private organizations and NGOs have opened to close the gap.  

Conclusion   Drug abuse in India has been and remains a large problem. Perhaps positively, arrests are low. But on the other side of things, not many remedial measures have been very successful in intervening on the issue. It is unclear what kind of, albeit negative, effects drug abuse and misuse has on society as a whole, but hopefully further research will continue to clarify the issues that Indian society may face a result of this epidemic, and perhaps the types of measures that would be uniquely effective for those facing these types of issues.  

Works Cited:  

Andrews, D. A. and James Bonta. "Rehabilitating Criminal Justice Policy and Practice." Pyschology Public Policy, and Law 16, no. 1 (2010): 39-55.

"Five-Year Arrest Trends: Totals, 2011-2015." FBI. Accessed February 1, 2017, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-34.  

"Hindus Drop Below 80 Percent of India's Population." Al Jazeera. Last modified August 26, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/hindus-drop-80-percent-india-population-muslims-census-150826052655585.html.  

"India's Drug Problem: 8 Eye-Opening Facts." India Time. Last modified June 23, 2014, https://www.indiatimes.com/news/more-from-india/indias-drug-problem-8-eyeopening-facts-156854.html.  

"The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985." Act, 1985.  

Prasad, Raekha. "Alcohol Use on the Rise in India." The Lancet 373, no. 9657 (2009): 17-18.  

PTI. "National Survey to Find Number of People Taking Drugs: Government." The Indian Express. Last modified August 4, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/national-survey-to-find-number-of-people-taking-drugs-government-2953561/.  

Rebbapragada, Pallavi. "Delhi Has 70,000 Children Addicted to Drugs on its Streets: How Will They be Rescued?" Firstpost. Last modified April 8, 2017, http://www.firstpost.com/india/delhi-has-70000-children-addicted-to-drugs-on-its-streets-how-will-they-be-rescued-3373880.html.