Legal opium shop alive till old patrons are

Legal opium shop alive till old patrons are

The lone government-run shop selling opium in Delhi is virtually breathing its last with just about two dozen authorised buyers left, mostly in their 80s. 

Every month, the permit holders head to the shop on Desh Bandhu Gupta Road in central Delhi to purchase their quota of up to 35 gm opium, depending upon individual medical prescription, as they are addicted to the substance and cannot live without it.

The central government has been supporting their addiction since 1954 as it was perceived then that they would die without opium consumption in the absence of any established de-addiction therapy six decades ago.

Opium here is sold at Rs 4 a gram and the “authorised addicts” consume the dark brown, semi-solid paste either with water, inhale its vapours after dissolving it in water or smoke it after mixing it with tobacco in a cigarette.

Ram Anand, an excise department constable, who runs the “Sarkari afeem ki dukan” (government-run opium shop) admits many people get confused about the outlet’s purpose.
“Many people question how can there be legal sale of an addictive substance,” he said.

The shop opens only for a few hours in the afternoon on Mondays and Fridays. It does not even have a board to announce its presence and many residents of the area are also not aware about its existence.

“There is no official board. The one put up last year was stolen,” said Anand, adding that the outlet sells about 550 grams of opium every month.

“No signage on the shop poses hurdles for people who come from rural areas and even neighbouring towns,” he said.

The one-room shop, adjacent to the Naiwalan lane in Karol Bagh, is run by the Medicines and Toiletries Preparations wing of the excise department. The shop shifted from its old premises in the Walled City to its current address in 1975, when it had around 2,000 customers. 

Octogenarian Narayan, a permit holder who has been a regular visitor to the shop for decades, said:  “I am procuring opium and consuming it since 1975. Now it is hard for me to travel by bus and come to the shop from my home in Sarai Kale Khan.”

His medical prescription for consuming opium also dates back to 1975. It has not be reviewed since.

According to Anand, the opium supply is legally procured from eastern Uttar Pradesh districts like Bareilley, where poppy is grown. The poppy flower extract is sent to a processing plant — Government Opium and Alkaloids Factory, Ghazipur city — after which it is sent to the narcotics bureau for sale.

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