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By | Syed Safa Chishti

Srinagar: The National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre report by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 2022 revealed about six lakh drug abuse cases emerging from Jammu and Kashmir. The distressing numbers indicate the situation in Kashmir as grave with cases growing. Cases from almost every nook and corner of the Valley including females too have been lately reported with over 150 cases of addiction from Srinagar, out of which 95 per cent are heroin abusers.

Asma Nasir, Counseller from Department of Psychiatry, GMC Baramulla, exempts out the involvement of the background of a substance abuser indulging in these addictions. “It is no longer specific to class or economic status of people. Education or illiteracy of an abuser does not drive the numbers as was perceived before. Out of every 10 cases that we receive, eight people do it out of peer pressure or experimentation even when it comes to heroin. The aftereffects, as they see it, make the ones consuming it feel like they are paradise but the ramifications go far beyond than just numbing their emotions”, said Asima Nasir.

Produced from morphine, a substance extracted from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants, heroin abuse, results into hazardous long term effects like, slowdown of heart rate and breathing, coma and death etc. “Heroin attacks all the body parts eventually” says Asma. “The addiction makes the person crave consistently because their body demands for the craving to be relieved every time they try to evade it” 

She informs the motives behind cases reported are observed to have less to do with the usual common stress of coping with unemployment stresses and other day to day pressures and more to do with just testing it on them. “Minimal percentages of drug abuse have anything dealing with work or daily pressures. Now it has unfortunately turned into a dangerous trend that begins with curiosity or to evade pain. Youngsters see it as means of stress busters for them without realizing how it could ruin their best years by subjecting themselves to injections”, Asima added.

The implications of sharing injections in substance abuse, bears far more harmful consequences than addiction. Heroin injectors who exchange syringes with other addicts could give rise to HIV-AIDS.

Asima further said that, “The patients undergo HCV anti-body tests and serological testing when they share needles. The grave addictions result in maximum liver damages. If the HIV symptoms in their bodies go unaware after injections then the same gets transmitted to their partners too being a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). Help from Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) for such patients are opening gradually which is a good cause of aid thereby”.

To aid in overcoming the menace, facilities like OSTs are setups in which opioid-dependent injecting drug users are provided with long acting opioid agonist medications for a long period of time under medical supervision along with psycho-social interventions.

Asma went on and  explains that in order to tackle the issue ahead, uplifting a patient’s willpower to improve their life for betterment becomes more vital apart from just medical treatment. “Addiction treatment drugs are as such available in every district. But as long as a patient does not get motivated to improve his/her life, we cannot compel them even when they are in the middle of their treatment because relapse chances may occur at any point”

Almost daily in Kashmir, an alarming rate of new drug abuse cases are reported ranging from over teenagers to middle aged men and women both. An approximate of about 67,000 drug abusers out of which 90 percent are heroin addicts, use more than 33,000 syringes daily and about INR 88,000 are reported to be spent by a drug abuser in the Valley yearly.

The role of society as such comes in with far more benefits than could be expected from medical treatments, explains Asma, “If society treats them just as a patient like other diabetic or hypertension patients, the whole narrative and the stigma associated with looking down upon drugs addicts will start changing for better”. She adds that the society’s approach towards them is very negative due to which they hesitate to seek help and confide to their family out of getting abandoned. “We don’t have to see them as lesser people but just like patients like others. Yes legal actions against drug peddlers demand stricter laws and actions but the ones involved in substance abuse are patients and not criminals. That’s a change of thought needed in our society”.

To overcome the issue without escalating the factors, Asma emphasizes the need to motivate and empathize with abusers socially and emotionally by treating them empathetically, “Understand that instead of judging, demotivating or characterizing them as a taint, we are nowhere even close to the solution.  Instead let’s make sure collectively that they are supported and encouraged, starting with a few words of motivation”.