Court admits plea for scientific and human rights standards for drug dependence treatment
22nd April 2009, Chandigarh: SHARAN, an NGO working with people who use drugs, approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court for protection of rights of persons dependent on drugs. Intervening in Talwinder Pal Singh v. State of Punjab, Crl. Misc. No. M- 26374 of 2008, SHARAN, sought the observance of clinical and human rights standards in the delivery of drug dependence treatment. Admitting SHARAN as a party to the proceedings, a single bench of Justice Rajiv Bhalla issued notices to the Ministries of Health and Family Welfare and Social Justice and Empowerment – the two agencies in charge of drug related treatment.
Facts leading up to the case date back to August 2008, when the District Magistrate, Mohali, Chandigarh directed centres providing treatment for drug dependence to ensure adequate accommodation, food, sanitation and medical care, documentation and record keeping and allow family visits. The said order was passed in response to a report of a death of a drug user due to alleged beating at a “de-addiction centre” near Mohali. At that time, SHARAN and Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit had written to the Ministries of Health and Social Justice to clean up drug dependence treatment facilities. Read More
In October 2008, the petitioners, who claim to provide counseling and rehabilitation to “drug addicts”, objected to the magisterial order, which, they alleged, was causing harassment. Expressing concern over drug addiction and the neglect of treatment services, Justice Bhalla sought replies from officials from the states of Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh.
In its application, SHARAN highlights incidents of drug users being held against their will and tortured in the name of treatment. It complains of the Government’s failure to uphold its constitutional and statutory responsibility to provide safe and evidence based treatment to drug dependent persons.
Appearing on behalf of SHARAN, Advocate Anand Grover drew the Court’s attention to “treatment obligations” under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Grover pointed out that the government had not framed statutory rules for establishment, maintenance and superintendence of treatment centres. The only guidance available is the Scheme for Prevention of Alcoholism and Substance (drug) Abuse and Manual on Minimum Standards of Care in Addiction Treatment Centres, which are deficient and lack legal force. Grover also alluded to denial of medicines including for relief from withdrawal despite the legal obligation to supply drugs at treatment facilities. Such practices, he argued, contravene the right to life and health of people who use drugs.
SHARAN has sought the Court to instruct the government to enact and implement rules for setting up, management and monitoring of treatment facilities in accordance with:
- Evidence-based good practice and accumulated scientific knowledge
- Fundamental rights and freedoms including dignity, autonomy and bodily integrity
- Consultation with community and civil society
SHARAN has also sought provision of pharmacotherapy including Methadone and Buprenorphine substitution for opioid dependence.