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Heroin horror stalks India's most remote villages

By Sara Sidner and Harmeet Shah Singh
March 8, 2012 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Drug abuse is widespread in India as report highlights India as more than a transit point for drug gangs
  • Some Punjab State officials estimate more than 50 percent of its 18-35 population are using drugs illegally
  • The U.N.'s estimation of global illicit substance abuse for the 15-64 age range is 4.8 percent
  • One rehab doctor said: The situation is explosive ... young people are dying

Sangrur, India (CNN) -- India's Punjab state is the birthplace of Bhangra music, home of the colorful turban and the exquisite golden temple.

It is a state in India where the population has prospered for many years. It has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country thanks to fertile farmland, abundant water supply and decent infrastructure. But the Punjab finds itself with a serious problem among its population -- drug addiction.

Addict Inderjeet Singh says at least half of the students in his school were taking drugs.

At 16 he says he was popping up to 10 prescription pills a day and washing them down with codeine cough syrup.

"When I take it I feel like I am wandering in heaven. I feel like a king of the whole world." Singh said.

At 20 he is in a drug rehab hospital where he prays, does yoga and learns candle making as he tries to kick the habit that was turning him into a zombie.

"I stopped recognizing even my parents," he said.

At the same hospital another man also named Inderjeet Singh (and no relation) said his drug of choice was heroin.

At 25 he said he would become violent if he didn't get a hit at least once a day. But finding the drug was never a problem even in what appear to be simple villages.

"It can be bought anytime from anywhere," he said. "20 to 25 families would be selling it in one village alone."

The cost: the equivalent of about $20 for five grams.

The United Nations 2011 drug and crime report says India is the largest consumer of heroin in South Asia, which stands to reason as it has the largest population in the region by far.

But the report has negated a perception that India is only a transit point for drugs coming in from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The report comes as no surprise to those in India's Punjab State, which borders Pakistan.

Some state officials estimate more than 50 percent of the population between 18 and 35 are using drugs illegally - including anything from heroin to abusing prescription drugs.

"As far as drug addiction in Punjab is concerned, the situation is explosive. It's worrisome. The young people are dying and the elders are becoming their pallbearer. Statistics show one addict is dying every eight minutes in Punjab," said Mohan Sharma, project director of the Red Cross De-addiction Hospital in Sangrur.

The U.N. says it is hard to get accurate statistics on drug use in India. But if those numbers are anywhere near true, it far exceeds the U.N.'s estimation of global illicit substance abuse for the 15-64 age range, which is 4.8 percent.

Even with 63 drug rehab centers in Punjab state they cannot seem to reverse the trend.. There is fear here that a whole generation will be locked in a terrible cycle of drugging and dying if more isn't done.

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