One man army

In his battle to prevent drug addiction, Dr Riyaz Ahmad, keeps an understaffed government de-addiction centre alive and kicking. Majid Maqbool meets the doctor who plays all roles.  
In a two room drug de-addiction centre at District Hospital Baramulla, Dr Riyaz Ahmad is a one man team. He is the counsellor, the pharmacist, the nurse, the nursing orderly, and, off course, the psychiatrist. All these roles are in addition to his regular duties as a general physician at the hospital. In one of the rooms, lined with few chairs and packets of medicine, he has been convincing drug addicts to choose life over drugs. Some have heeded his advice, others are reluctant, but he persists. Almost daily, this has been the routine in his life for two years. And in case a patient doesn’t turn up for treatment, he calls him up.
“Sometimes, they keep their phones switched off or don’t answer,” Dr Ahmad says. “But I persist and call from other numbers. I try my level best to bring them out of this menace.”
Soft spoken, he smiles every once in a while. His smile depicts his persistence. He calls it his best weapon. Despite the lack of staff at his centre, he is positive. Some of the patients he has treated were extreme cases of drug addiction – multiple drug users.
“They had to be treated over a period of time but they are recovering now. It took 2-3 months for them to slowly recover as they went through withdrawal syndromes, which is very difficult for drug users. They have to be constantly monitored and motivated against drug use,” he says.
In early 2007, after taking a short course from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, Dr Ahmad conducted a drug de-addiction camp in Baramulla in collaboration with police. It was a success, and got a highly positive response.
Soon – in May 2007 – he took the additional charge of the drug de-addiction centre at the district hospital. It is one of three such centres in Valley and among 122 across India. Dr Ahmad is also the in charge of the hospital blood bank and attends patients in the OPD (Out Patient Department) too.
The centre was staff-less when Dr Ahmed took it over. But he ran it, all by himself. After two years of counselling and having treated hundred of patients, there is still no one to assist.
“Once you have a drug de-addiction centre, it should have a full fledged staff that comprises of a counsellor, a nurse, nursing orderly, a trained pharmacist and a physiatrist. But no staff has been given to this centre till now,” he says.
Though he multitasks, his still finds two days every week to see patients twice a week at the de-addiction centre. The centre caters to whole of north Kashmir. In two years, Dr Ahmad has treated around 264 addicts, in age groups varying from 14 to 45 and beyond. Around 50 have been freed of their addiction.
“There were some extreme cases who were involved in drug addiction for eight to 10 years and they had no treatment till then,” he says. “Some of them came regularly to this centre and are slowly getting rid of their habit.”
He wants more and more drug addicts to come forward for treatment. “Being a local resident, I tried my best to involve people to spread awareness about drug addiction.”
But the number of patients that turn up for treatment, he says, is less than expected. “The awareness is less,” he says. “We have to involve social workers, NGOs that can create awareness so that drug addicts get treated at an early stage.”
Dr Ahmad says a door to door study could bring out the real number of drug users in Baramulla. Right now no figures are available.
He says the “social trauma because of the conflict has given rise to drug addiction. Those who have seen their close relatives die are more prone to drugs.”
He feels that easy availability of drugs in the district is a major worry. “Police needs to conduct regular raids to stop sale of drugs. And stop its cultivation too.”
Some of the patients, Dr Ahmad says, came late to the centre for treatment when they had lost all hope. But then he prescribed hope as medicine. “I worked hard on such patients, motivated them. They also cooperated and are now recovering,” he says.
Dr Ahmad wants people “to provide moral support to drug addicts” to help them rid themselves of their addiction. “Parents should bring their children to doctors if they have fallen prey to drugs.”
Being a one man show is not that easy. “It is not possible for me to follow up on every patient,” he admits. “Some come once or twice, some don’t turn up regularly. Many don’t turn up for follow up treatment. To follow them all, we need a staff.”

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