RTI Reveals Data Discrepancies in Tripura’s Substance Abuse Reporting

By Milton Debbarma

May 25, 2024

Substance abuse is a pressing public health concern in Tripura. In addition, with the proliferation of illicit drugs and psychotropic substances, understanding the scope and impact of substance abuse is essential for effective policymaking and intervention. The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 empowers Indian citizens to seek information from public authorities, ensuring transparency and accountability in government operations. In Tripura, an RTI application was submitted to the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) seeking detailed information on deaths, hospitalizations, and commonly abused narcotic and psychotropic substances for five years from 2017 to 2022. The responses from health centres across Tripura, including IGM Hospital, Kherengbar CHC, Katlamara PHC, Borakha PHC, Mandwi PHC, Kanchanmal PHC, Ranirbazar PHC, Champaknagar PHC, Hezamara PHC, Anandanagar PHC, Mohanpur CHC, Bamutia PHC, Lefunga PHC, Jirania CHC, Gandhigram PHC, Narsingarh PHC, Tripura Sundari Sub-Divisional Hospital, and Amarpur Sub-Divisional Hospital revealed significant discrepancies and highlighted potential issues in data management and reporting. This article delves into the implications of these findings, highlighting the need for improved data collection practices and greater transparency in addressing substance abuse issues.

Initial Mismanagement of the RTI Application

The RTI application initially received a response from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Regional Cancer Centre, which provided a “NIL” answer to all queries. This response was not only inadequate but also misleading. The cancer centre is not the appropriate authority to handle such data. The correct office for this information is the DHS, which should have comprehensive data on public health matters, including substance abuse. This initial mismanagement points to a fundamental flaw in the routing and handling of RTI applications, reflecting poorly on the efficiency and responsiveness of the DHS. Such misdirection can erode public trust in the RTI process and indicates a need for better training and awareness among public information officers about their responsibilities.

Inconsistencies Across Health Centres

Subsequent data from various Community Health Centres (CHCs) and Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in West Tripura and Gomati Districts highlighted significant inconsistencies. All centres uniformly reported zero deaths due to narcotic and psychotropic substances across all reported years. While this might suggest a positive public health scenario at first glance, it raises several critical questions. Given the well-documented issues of drug abuse in different parts of the state, such uniformity is highly unusual and likely indicates underreporting or flawed data collection practices. This discrepancy suggests either a failure in the reporting mechanism or an absence of proper documentation and monitoring at these centres.

Hospitalization data showed similar inconsistencies. Most health centres reported zero cases, except for Anandanagar PHC, which showed a noticeable increase in hospitalizations from 2017 to 2022. This anomaly suggests either a localized issue or that Anandanagar PHC might have better record-keeping practices compared to other centres. The stark difference in data from this single centre compared to the others highlights the need for a standardized and robust data collection framework to ensure uniformity and reliability across all health facilities.

Variability in Reporting Common Substances

The responses regarding commonly used or abused substances varied significantly between health centres. For instance, Lefunga PHC reported substances such as Ganja, Heroin, and Codeine, while Anandanagar PHC listed Barbiturates, Nitrazepam, Brown Sugar, Ganja, and Injection Pethidine. Such variability indicates a severe lack of standardized data collection and reporting mechanisms, leading to inconsistent and potentially unreliable information. The discrepancies in reported substances could also reflect varying levels of awareness and expertise among healthcare providers in different regions, further complicating the picture.

Some centres provided no information or listed “Unknown” for certain queries, indicating either a lack of data or an unwillingness to disclose it. The inconsistency in data quality across different health centres highlights the urgent need for standardized reporting protocols and better training for health officials to ensure accurate and comprehensive data collection.

Data Quality and Completeness

The quality and completeness of the data provided were notably lacking. Some health centres did not provide any information, while others listed “Unknown” for specific queries. For instance, Jirania CHC and Gandhigram PHC either provided “Nil” or no information, which could indicate poor record-keeping or a genuine absence of cases. However, given the context and known challenges of drug abuse, it is more likely that there is significant underreporting.

The response from IGM Hospital was particularly brief and lacking in specifics. It reported “Nil” for deaths and common substances but mentioned an average of five hospitalizations per year due to complications from narcotic and psychotropic substances. This suggests either a lack of detailed record-keeping or an underestimation of the problem’s scope. The variability and general lack of detailed information call into question the overall reliability of the data provided.

Implications for Policy and Intervention

The inconsistencies and gaps in reported data have significant implications for policy formulation and intervention strategies in Tripura. Accurate and comprehensive data are indispensable for understanding the scope of the problem, identifying high-risk populations, and targeting resources effectively. Without reliable data, policymakers may struggle to allocate resources efficiently and implement evidence-based interventions. Moreover, incomplete or inaccurate data may undermine public trust in government efforts to address substance abuse, further complicating prevention and treatment initiatives.

These findings underscore the urgent need for improved data collection practices, standardized reporting protocols, and greater transparency in addressing substance abuse issues. By addressing these challenges and implementing evidence-based interventions, Tripura can enhance its capacity to combat substance abuse effectively and safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens. As the state continues to grapple with the complexities of substance abuse, a concerted effort involving government agencies, healthcare providers, and community stakeholders is essential to achieve meaningful progress in this critical area.

The author serves as the General Secretary of the Kokborok Media Forum.

Public Disclaimer: The experiences, views, and opinions shared by the author in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent the official stance of Yakhrai.

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