Watch: Covid fuels drug abuse, Kashmir’s other pandemic; data suggests shocking increase in first-time users
Text story: Hirra Azmat – Video: Sibtain Haider, Is’haq Bhat
Srinagar: Twenty-five-year-old Faizan (name-changed) dreamt of a good job and easy life after finishing his MBA in March last year. That is when life took an ugly turn and the pandemic broke out.
“The back-to-back lockdowns and a long period of isolation introduced him to heroin. He started inhaling the drug first and ended up using the injectables. Soon the amount increased to about 2 grams per day. This prompted him to sell his mobile phone and other valuables to procure heroin,” the doctor treating him at IMHANS said.
An overdose brought him to the hospital last month. “He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C as he had shared needles with his friends,” the doctor said.
Similarly, a driver in the twenties was the main bread-earner of the house. He faced financial distress in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. “To cope up with the stress, he took heroin injections. It was given to him free of cost for two weeks. Once the addiction set in, he began to exhaust whatever little he had saved on the drugs,” the doctor said.
With no other strong source of financial support, his family bore the brunt of it. He was forcibly brought to the hospital for treatment, the doctor said.
Data released by IMHANS reveal that there have been 3538 admissions since the pandemic broke out last year. Interestingly, 12 percent of OPD attendees were first-time users who took to drugs during the lockdown period. Also, 24 percent of the drug abusers had relapsed during the lockdown.
Dr Yasir Rather, In-charge Drug-Deaddiction Center, IMHANS said Covid-19 isn’t just about the illness it’s also about the associated factors with it like lockdown, financial strains, familial changes, disruption in normal routine which has led to many mental health issues, and unfortunately “substance use” is one of the fallouts.
“During the lockdown, people witnessed financial, emotional, and other stresses where they were not able to cope. So in some cases either as escapism or just as a negative coping mechanism people started taking drugs,” he said.
That said, Dr. Rather pointed out that lockdowns not only pushed more youth to drugs but also led to relapse in patients with substance use who were either on maintenance mode or were off treatment.
“We did witness a good number of relapses who before the pandemic was doing well. There were two major reasons for it: one being not being able to access treatment services and second, being psychosocial factors- boredom, fear and uncertainty, peer pressure, familial issues, and financial strains,” he said.
Moreover, Dr Muzaffar Khan, Clinical Psychologist and Director, Youth Development and Rehabilitation Center said, when the first lockdown was imposed, they were convinced that drug abuse will come down since the communication channels between abusers and suppliers will be shut.
“But the ground reality has proved us wrong. The number of abusers and those who come to seek help is increasing unabated,” Dr. Khan said.
A lot of overdose deaths are being reported, he said. “Therefore the need of the hour is to establish a helpline for families of drug abusers. This is where they can be educated about overdose signs so that they can facilitate treatment for these patients,” he said.