Punjab government launches peer support network for substance-addicted inmates


Chandigarh: In line with the strong commitment of the Punjab government led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to eliminate the scourge of drugs from the state, the Punjab government in collaboration with the Special Task Force has launched a peer support network for inmates with substance use disorder/addiction in 19. Punjab Prisons from this month.

Disclosing more details, Prisons Minister Harjot Singh Bains on Friday stated that these 19 prisons cater to more than 95% of addicted prisoners and the peer support network will be extended to the rest of the 6 prisons in the near future. He said that peer support is one of the 3 essential pillars of the Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) model, namely medication, peer support and counselling. Bains said it’s vital to help victims of drug abuse stay off drugs and undergo successful addiction treatment.

The minister further said that it is an important part of the recovery process according to the best practices based on evidence at the national and international level. He said the peer support network will be established in partnership with Narcotics Anonymous (NA), an international non-profit society to help men and women deal with drug abuse. He also said the fraternity does not promote itself, but rather attracts new members through information and public outreach.

The minister said Narcotics Anonymous uses a 12-step model developed for people with various substance use disorders. He further added that NA suggests that drug addiction can be prevented and that recovery is possible through NA’s 12-step program. Bains said that in this field it has 70,000 active volunteers spread over 144 countries and in India, it has a wide network and regular meetings are held in Punjab itself.

The minister said that various NA teams have started peer support meetings in prisons with about 1540 inmates attending these in 19 prisons. He said that each NA team consists of 4-5 volunteers, who will hold meetings in 19 pre-selected prisons for a few days each week. He said the frequency of meetings will increase as the number of attendees willing to join the Peer Support Network increases.

Bains said these NA volunteers are holding meetings in prisons without charging a fee, their sole purpose being to support people with substance use disorders (SUDs)/addicts.

The minister said he aims to train inmates on how to organize meetings according to the NA system. He said that written material/printed literature will be circulated in the prison press to the inmates who need such support and added that at the state level it is intended to gradually establish peer support network in all de-addiction centers/rehabilitation centers and State OOAT clinics. The minister expressed his gratitude to the Punjab wing of Narcotics Anonymous for coming forward and organizing these meetings in the prisons at a very short notice in synergy with the task force and the prison department.

The minister said that the effective implementation of peer support is part of the OOAT system and its implementation had been pending since 2017. He said, however, with the current step, an important milestone has been achieved in establishing the peer support network. Bains, while acknowledging the work done by the officers and staff of the Prison Department and the Special Task Force, thanked the contribution of Addl. Chief Secretary (Prisons) KAP Sinha, IAS and HS Sidhu IPS SDG Prisons in taking the initiative to establish peer support network in prisons.

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