Srinagar: The coronavirus lockdown may have left people distressed but many drug addicts in Kashmir have perforce stopped taking the banned substances, which are simply not available.
Doctors at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), Srinagar, said the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic has come as a blessing for drug addicts in the valley as they have started seeking treatment after showing disruptive signs while staying at home and in absence of drugs.
They also warned that Covid-19 infection can turn lethal for the substance abusers if they don’t stop the habit.
“We receive 5 to 10 new cases daily of those seeking treatment for withdrawal symptoms of substance abuse,” said Dr Yasir Rather, Associate Professor at IMHANS Srinagar.
“It’s a positive sign. Under normal circumstances, abusers usually don’t seek treatment,” he said.
Dr Rather, who is also in charge of the drug de-addiction program of IMHANS, said common drugs like heroin and cannabis are not available due to the strict lockdown.
“The lockdown could break the supply chain of drugs, especially heroin. Substance abusers had started showing disruptive behaviour as they found it impossible to get their regular dose,” he said.
According to Dr Rather, substance abusers come in the high-risk group of contracting the infection and dying because of that.
“Their lungs are already compromised due to smoking and other addictions, so they are more prone to infection. It can turn lethal for them,” he said.
Helpline numbers have been started by IMHANS for addicts who wish to seek treatment. Muhammad Sameer, Lecturer in Psychiatric Social Work at IMHANS, said, “We begin with telephonic counselling of the persons with addiction. In case their symptoms are serious, we ask them to come to IMHANS or SMHS Hospital for one-on-one sessions and further management.”
According to Sameer, the institute has successfully put more than 30 drug abusers on counselling and substitution therapy during the period of this lockdown.
“Withdrawal symptoms like palpitation, nausea, body ache and vomiting become unbearable for addicts, so they need medical attention,” he said.
“Sometimes, abusers show agitation and neurological disruptions, in which case their hospitalisation becomes imperative,” Sameer said.
As per doctors, most of the drug abuse cases are in the age group of 15 to 30 years and heroin is the most common substance taken by them.
Official data says that drug addiction in Kashmir has witnessed a steep increase during the last five years.
“In 2018, the drug de-addiction centre at SMHS Hospital treated more than 600 cases related to drug abuse including 80 percent having heroin addictions,” said a senior resident.
He said that abusers have a golden opportunity to stop taking drugs even if it is by default due to the lockdown.