NEW DELHI: Last year, a young British couple was found dead in a hotel room in Agra. James Gaskell, 28, and his wife Alexandra, 24, were found lying in a bed surrounded by open packets of prescription drugs — tranquillisers, anti depressants, pain killers — all pointing to the rampant prescription drug abuse India is gaining notoriety for, globally.
Unchecked sale of prescription drugs over the counter is becoming India's biggest drug problem, but who is checking? The last time a drug user survey was conducted in India was in 2000-01, when the ministry of social justice and empowerment and the UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) came together for a national survey, results of which were published in 2004.
According to UNODC, India at the time accounted for 10 percent of the total pharmaceuticals produced in the world. In its report it noted that the law required all drugs with "abuse potential" to be sold only on prescription, but that there was "significant diversion" from this.
"In India, currently, injecting drug use is more closely linked to the abuse of licit opiate pharmaceuticals than to illicit drugs," according to the report.
For the next 10 years, there was no further study on this, and the government has only recently announced that another national survey will be done.
A UN report released in March last year records the growing prescription drug abuse in India.
Visual journalists Vikram Singh and Enrico Fabian documented the alarming spike in the number of people using prescription drug cocktails which are up to 10 times cheaper, and often easily available at neighbourhood chemists.
Their short documentary 'Deadly Medicine' follows the lives of some of these users, and reveals the callousness of chemists and the lack of infrastructure to rehabilitate such users. Singh described how he found more than 60 recovering users living in one room at a time due to lack of proper rehabilitation facilities.
"The chemists who are selling drugs over the counter are the biggest peddlers," says Rajeev Gill, a 50-year-old recovering addict who discusses his struggle with addiction in the documentary.
Following the documentary, the duo have contributed to three campaigns to help these users, including a tie-up with UNODC to spread more awareness on the issue.