Medical opioids the drug of choice; only 5-10 percent of the substance abusers make it to de-addiction centres
SRINAGAR: Substance abuse among youngsters is rising in Kashmir, and experts warn that lack of family supervision could take a toll on the entire society.
Medicinal opioids are the substances predominantly abused, which comes in the form of spasmoproxyvon capsules (containing dicyclomine, paracetamol, and tramadol), codeine phosphate syrups and benzodiazepine tablets. The abuse of cannabis, alcohol and solvents too is showing an alarming increase.
Data available with the Department of Psychiatry revealed that in 2014, as many as 3,808 patients were received at two centres at Medical College Srinagar and Psychiatric Diseases Hospital Rainawari. In 2015-16, this number rose to 4,658. The number dropped to 2,692 in the year 2016-2017 due to the post-Burhan Wani uprising. But the number showed a surge again.
In the past two years, 3,864 patients have been treated at four de-addiction centres across Kashmir. Srinagar overwhelmingly tops the list of substance abusers with 2,260 cases, followed by 610 in Jammu while 603 and 391 patients were treated in the de-addiction centres of Anantnag and Baramulla.
Director Police Drug De-addiction Centre, Srinagar, Dr. Muzaffar Khan, said the menace of drug addiction had penetrated every section of our society. Most alarming to him was the fall in the ages of first-time users, who now tend to belong to a much younger age group than previously observed. He added that “only 5-10 percent of the substance abusers make it to de-addiction centres while the rest go unnoticed”.
“What we see is the tip of an ice berg. The problem is much deeper. Last year, an unusual accident took place in Bandipora wherein the two drivers, a pillion rider and an eyewitness were all under the influence of drugs. It was shocking, but at the same time it highlights how badly these drugs have eaten our youth,” he said.
He continued to relate how, for the last six months, nearly 1,140 patients were seen at the police de-addiction centre but only 149 were admitted. “The existing infrastructure is proving insufficient as it is unable to cater to the huge rush of patients. The centre has 15 beds and an extension of 10 more is under proposal,” he said.
Three years ago, Aqib (not his real name) went to a party with friends at a hotel in Srinagar. He had never tried drugs before. “I knew drugs were lethal, and I had always tried to stay away from them,” said Aqib. At the party, his friends drank alcohol and were smoking charas and the street drug ‘fuki’, said to be as lethal as brown sugar, which affects the nervous system. “My friends forced me to try these drugs. They said trying them would eliminate the depression I was in then as I was not doing well in my exams. I hesitated at first. Then, with their efforts and a lot of motivation, I tried them. I didn’t realise what was happening and I started to like them. It felt like heaven.”
Aqib was then in Class XII and was not performing well in his exams. “After trying the drugs my friends gave me, I felt confident and I started doing well in my exams. I had no idea that I would get addicted to them.”
He started to show symptoms of drug use after a year. His behaviour towards his parents started changing and he would even abuse his mother and siblings.
“Sometimes I would even beat my youngest brother because I wanted to get more pocket money. I started to rob my parents for money to buy drugs,” he said.
After completing his Class XII exams, he had planned to appear in the Combined Entrance Test for medical studies, wanting strongly to become a doctor. “But I failed. I started to use more drugs than before due to my failure. My mother found me in a washroom one day, lying face-down on the floor. White foam was coming from my mouth. I was taken to hospital. It was there that my parents came to know that I was a drug addict. I cried a lot that day for the way I have disappointed them. I didn’t know how to leave drugs as it was now a part of me.”
His parents took him to Delhi for counselling, and it took him five months to recover and rid himself of addiction. “I wasted two years of my life because of drugs. Now I am looking forward to accomplishing my dream of becoming a doctor.”
Aqib has recently qualified medical exams in London to study medicine.
Of late, a large number of teenage girls and women have also turned into substance users. In 2008, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme Survey found that out of 70,000 drug addicts in Kashmir 4,000 were women.
Shazia (not her real name) is a college drop out. Her addiction to lethal drugs started in a college washroom where a girl was selling drugs and persuaded Shazia to try them. “I used to drink beer, but had never tried charas and codeine. She told me she would give me a sample free, and if I liked it, I could buy more from her. I tried them and felt immense pleasure. I started to buy drugs from her the very next day. I tried all kinds like Spasmoproxyvon capsules, sleeping pills, whitener fluid, boot polish, fuki, charas and other drugs. I was so addicted I started selling my belongings to buy them.”
When she twice failed her exams, her parents started to ask questions. “They felt I was addicted to drugs as my condition was not good. But I would always avoid any contact with them. They were both employed and they have the least time to spare for me. I was their only child. I was not going to college any more and I would spend all my day with friends in restaurants and talking about drugs.”
It was a close friend who leaked her secret to her parents. “When my parents came to know, they beat me. I went into depression for two years. In the meantime, they took me to a drug addiction centre. It was the worst time of my life, being treated for drug addiction and living there for a month. My friends started to hate me, and my relatives said I was an evil girl and had no right to live. I once tried to kill myself, but the ceiling fan collapsed and I survived. I am still depressed and I don’t know how long I have to live with this stigma that I was a drug addict. Living in our society with this shame, and being a girl besides, I face unspeakable difficulties.” Shazia said she now smokes cigarette to handle her depression. “My parents don’t know about it; I smoke in isolation when no one is around. That is what keeps me going in the turmoil I have created in my life.”
Shazia is yet to rejoin college to complete her Bachelor’s degree as she feels unsafe facing people who knew about her addiction.
The rehabilitation of drug abuse patients begins with the first contact with the counsellor for motivational assessment and enhancement. A medical review follows, with necessary investigations and basic screening for HIV, HCV, HBV and other routine procedures for screening high-risk patients. Medical detoxification is conducted later, should the patient need to be admitted. After this, the patients go through a range of practices for their rehabilitation including individual counselling, group counselling, daily yoga and meditation sessions as also those for recreation and physical exercise, weekly group family sessions, relapse-prevention sessions and regular follow-ups.
Dr. Khan was unsparing during a recent presentation he made on the challenges faced by patients addicted to drugs. “Insufficient treatment facilities, associated stigma around the condition, no rehabilitation plan in place, high vulnerability for relapse, magisterial orders/court directions [around rehabilitation] not easily available, lack of crisis teams or dedicated helplines, lack of financial assistance for patients or their families, an ever-increasing wait-list for in-house treatment, lack of a clear-cut policy vis-a-vis de-addiction centres,” were factors he spelled out as leading to adverse outcomes for rehabilitation.
However, he stressed that drug addiction had become too serious a problem in our society to ignore. “We are both addicted to the drug and cultivate it as well. We want cooperation from all departments to remove it.”