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Punjab drug addicts scramble for “Ghoda’ capsules after effective crackdown on narcotics in Punjab

Be careful of popping too many multivitamin tablets

With massive crackdown on drug menace in Punjab, addicts are fast shifting to recreational or prescription drugs with ‘Ghoda’ tablets or Pregabalin rapidly getting popular. Non punishable under NDPS act, the drug generally used to treat neuropathic pain in horses is the latest favourite amongst addicts who are consuming as many as 30 pills a day to get the illicit high. With meagre penalisations involved, easy availability owing to stud farms across the state, doctors have raised an alarm regarding the same and anti-drug activists have demanded a state wide ban.

“Recreational or prescription drugs are the biggest challenge currently. We have patients who are consuming as many as 35 pills at a time to match the high of their usual drugs like Heroin. The drugs are easily available with the majority of chemists not even caring about getting prescriptions. We need detailed regulation regarding the sale of this drug and others. With people believing it to be a legally safe and cheap drug, more and more youngsters are catching on to it,” said Dr Sandeep Bhola, Deputy Medical Commissioner with the Punjab government.

“Apart from Pregablin, Gabapentin (used for epilepsy treatment and neuropathic pains) is also used by the drug addicts as an alternative to opioid withdrawals and as both are not punishable under NDPS act, addicts continue to purchase over the counter”, Bhola who is also a technical expert United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Punjab government Punjab told Indianarrative.com.

Punjab has nearly 10 lakh identified addicts which constitutes 3 percent of the total population. Out of these every second addict is taking an alternate or recreational drug with or without his usual opioid.

In humans Pregabalin is used for the treatment of epileptic seizures, for neuropathic pains, stroke, etc. Drug addicts take it in doses 5-20 times higher than the dosage prescribed by the doctor. Pregabalin acts like a sleeping pill and in overdose can cause epileptic seizures or sudden death. As a result, it has been reclassified as a Schedule V drug in the US, a Class C controlled drug in the UK, and in other countries for its potential for abuse. The salt has been widely used in Punjab’s Malwa belt known for its stud farms.

Centre approved the production of Pregabalin (75 mg, 150 mg, and 300 mg) in 2005 for the treatment of anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, partial seizures, alcohol and opioid withdrawal in people but attained popularity as recreational drug during 2020 pandemic due to non-availability of Heroin owing to lockdown.

Until the lockdown began, a Dehradun-based company distributed Pregabalin capsules in Punjab under the brand name Signature. Due to its widespread availability and low cost (Rs 4 per capsule), Signature 300 mg quickly gained popularity among addicts. The company however stopped all sales in Punjab in 2022. But after that, other pharma companies began producing the same medication and now it’s the first choice of many addicts.

As the menace grew and Mansa district saw seizures of large quantities of these pills, the administration became first to prohibit the sale of Pregabalin capsules over 75 mg without a prescription in 2021. The ban was recently renewed under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

“Chemists must affix their signature on the prescription slip when providing the medication and also record the date of dispensation. Civil Surgeon Mansa has observed that some people are misusing Pregabalin-containing 300 mg capsules, using it as a recreational drug (known by its street name Signature). Due to this misuse, the ban has been imposed in Mansa district”, read the orders.

With Mansa taking the lead, the anti-drug activists across the state have demanded state wide measures against this cheap drug which according to them has numerous side effects.

“An addict is always on the lookout for a cheaper high and when medicines are misused then there is high risk of side effects. There have been deaths reported to high dosage of this capsule and some have even been paralysed or are in coma but nobody classifies them as drug deaths as it is not covered under NDPS act. Many patients find stopping pregablin due to both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms. Punjab needs to tighten the noose on recreational drugs,” said Hardeep Singh, a psychologist and activist.

In a September 2022 research paper titled ‘Pregabalin Use/Misuse: A Source of Consternation in Western Punjab’, Jitender Aneja, co-author and a psychiatrist at AIIMS, Bathinda had stated, “Long-term effects (of pregabalin misuse) are yet to be seen. However we are seeing cases with seizures as well as coma when patients combine it with opium or heroin. Deaths due to such a combination is also reported. But as presently no one is doing blood analysis for Pregabalin in deaths due to drug overdoses so no stats from India.”