Srinagar: At the Drug De-addiction Centre (DDC) of SMHS Hospital, Srinagar, a young couple could well be mistaken as the attendants of a patient until they tell you about their journey through hell.
With sore wounds and lesions all over their hands and feet, they show you the traces of their intravenous heroin abuse.
“The husband already had a two-year history of substance abuse. He led his wife into drugs. As a result, they had exhausted all their savings and wedding gold on buying heroin. They are in a very bad financial state right now,” the doctor treating them said.
This is not an isolated case. Couples into drug addiction is the new post-pandemic phenomenon being observed at the drug-addiction centers in Kashmir.
Sample this: A father-mother to a three-year-old child was caught in the vortex of heroin abuse of late. When their withdrawal symptoms became more apparent, their family members got to know about it.
“The couple came to seek treatment from us a few months ago. We have put them on Opioid substitution therapy (OST). It is a type of harm reduction initiative that offers people who are dependent on opioids (such as heroin) an alternative, prescribed medicine. They are substance-free now and are doing much better,” the doctor said.
Besides this, the number of couples reported with Hepatitis C and HIV is also increasing. “What is more alarming is the fact that earlier a lot of patients reported addiction to drugs like cannabis, Benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Now, the majority of the patients coming to the hospital are seen abusing heroin using injectables. Due to shared needles, the patients get susceptible to diseases like HIV and Hepatitis,” Dr. Aaliya Khanam, Senior Resident at Department of Psychiatry, DDC, Srinagar said.
Moreover, the substance users put their partners at grave risk of transmitting HIV and Hepatitis to them, posing a serious link not just to their lives but also to partners who are non-users. Not only do they have to contend with the emotional trauma of a failing marriage due to the addiction of the partner, but also deal with ravaged health, she said.
Dr. Aaliya pointed out that most of the patients at our center get introduced to drugs by their peers. “But some are from dysfunctional families. And some are genuinely genetically vulnerable, impulsive by nature who start consuming drugs just to seek a thrill,” she said.
In either case, once a beginning has been made a person spirals downhill till the point of no return unless the family intervenes, she said.
Conservative estimates suggest that 90-95 patients on average are reported daily at the Drug De-Addiction Centre at SMHS hospital, Srinagar. Around 80 percent of the patients have been found on Intravenous (IV) abuse of Heroin.
A 2021 study, titled, “Pattern and prevalence of substance use and dependence in two districts of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir: Special focus on opioids,” also suggests the high prevalence of heroin among the substance abusers in the valley.
“Prevalence of any substance dependence was estimated to be 1.95% while as for any opioids, it was 1.80%. Heroin was the most common opioid among 84.33% of respondents,” the study said.
The study indicated that the current prevalence of injection drug use was 0.95% and heroin was the most common opioid among Injection Drug Users (IDU), being used by 91.12% IDUs followed by Pentazocine (5.92%).
Dr. Aaliya stressed that it’s high time that we have multiple conversations around drug abuse and raise awareness on it.
“More importantly, mental illness and substance abuse often go hand in hand. If you are dealing with a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder you should seek professional help from a psychiatrist and a licensed therapist. A professional will provide you with healthy coping skills to alleviate your symptoms without turning to drugs and alcohol,” she said.