A recent report by the Lahore Police revealed that 102 people have died as a result of chronic drug addiction in Lahore since January of 2022. The problem of addiction is born out of various socio-economic hardships and health problems suffered by people who are mostly homeless, although there is no denying that such instances are plenty in the upper strata of society as well. There is clearly a desire to end this problem of addiction but it has to be done with some humanity. These individuals are not criminals but victims of their circumstances.

Drug abuse has become so common—particularly in urban centers like Lahore—that people of all ages can be seen huddled about in different corners of the city engaging in the dangerous activity. Worryingly, injectable drugs like sedatives, tranquillisers, heroin, opium and even crystal meth are used commonly and have become rather popular. They are circulated with such frequency that, according to the report, street children can also gain access and easily engage in drug abuse. This is undeniably a social hazard for which the government must assume some responsibility.

Taking criminal action against such individuals is not only useless but counterproductive as well. Most commonly, this proliferation in drug use has been born out of the inability to deal with social challenges like mental illnesses and healthcare issues. The report discovered that most of the drug addicts were either suffering from depression, HIV or hepatitis. This not only signals to the fact that there are larger problems that the government has to deal with—like the provision of free or subsidised healthcare and creating mental health awareness—but that processing them as criminals may do more harm than good. Those who have been taken to custody have often taken their own lives as they saw no way out of their already incredibly tough life.

The government cannot continue to neglect this phenomenon and continue adopting a law and order approach to this. There is a need for more rehabilitation centres around the country.. Currently, there is only one major rehab for drug addicts in Punjab and it is located in Multan. Detoxification, rehabilitation, education, aftercare and social integration are the very basic services that should be on offer to tackle this issue. This should not be pursued as a war on drugs, instead a human centric and rehabilitative approach should be at the centre of this strategy.