Funding agency: U.S. Fulbright Commission

Duration: December 2018 to August 2019

Research investigator(s): Karen Wen


According to the 2013 Global Burden of Disease study, the burden attributed to drug use increases dramatically in adolescence and young adulthood. First drug use peaks in adolescence, and globally in young men aged 20-24, alcohol and illicit substance use account for 14% of total health burden.

Within substance use and addictions research in India, research has primarily focused on licit substances such as tobacco and alcohol. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that illicit drug use is a rising and highly stigmatised, thus “hidden” problem, yet there is a dearth of systematic research done on illicit drug use. With its emphasis on illicit drug use, this study investigates the understudied landscape of these behaviours, with the purpose of analysing the characteristics of illicit drug use in adolescents across India and to identify facilitators and barriers to care.

Lastly, there is substantial variation in drug use worldwide, and large gaps of epidemiological data exist for drug use in low- and middle-income countries. In 2016, the Lancet identified the pressing need for research that not only increases the geographic coverage of studies but also elucidates the social, cultural, and interpersonal variables that differentiate drug use characteristics among countries and cultures. This study would identify such contextual factors in drug use within a low-resource setting, filling the evidence gap in a lower middle-income country, by using an explanatory framework.


1) To understand the characteristics (i.e., rationale, impetus, and impact) of illicit drug use in adolescents

2) To investigate the cultural influence, history, individual and societal attitudes, and related elements that have contributed to current illicit drug use in adolescents in India, including regional variation among states

3) To study facilitators and barriers to care, particularly to identify possible areas of intervention needed to enhance access to care


Using qualitative research methodology, we will interview groups of adolescents (ages 18-24) and healthcare providers to develop an explanatory model of illicit drug use in adolescents.