Polluting Lives

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With the increase in the use of drugs among valley youth, many addicts are trying different substances. Sharing of syringes by addicts leads to deadly infections. Aliya Bashir reports.

Naseem Ahmed (name changed), 23, left his studies half-way due to deteriorating health. He started taking drugs soon after passing his matriculation exams. From Corex syrup to Alprax tablets, he tried every possible thing in the company of well-known addicts of his locality. He took drugs to “escape the pressure of exams”. Hardly did he know that taking drugs would lead him to a fatal disease one day.

He is suffering from Hepatitis-C, for which he needs a dose of 24 injections costing Rs four lakh. Like Naseem dozens of youth in Kashmir are falling prey to the deadly diseases due to serious drug abuse.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is spread by blood-to-blood contact. The infection is often asymptomatic, but once established, chronic infection can progress to scarring of the liver (fibrosis), and advanced scarring (cirrhosis) which is generally apparent after many years.

“I just thought to give it a try. Some boys in my locality asked me to taste a Corex bottle. When I started, I felt very relaxed. With the passage of time, I started consuming three bottles a day which cost around 120 rupees,” recalls Naseem, a resident of South Kashmir.

Little did he know, his habit which gave him a few moments of ‘thrill’ would turn into a dangerous trap.  Naseem is a third-year student of Bachelors of Arts.  At present, Naseem is under doctor’s observation in Drug De-addiction Centre (DDC), Police Control Room Srinagar.

Although there is no accurate data of the number of drug addicts suffering from Hepatitis –C doctors at police de-addiction centre say, “Fifty per cent of IV (intravenous) drug users who reported to the centre turned out to be HC (positive). This is a rising phenomenon among both rural and urban youth, which escalates with sharing of needles,” says Dr Muhammad Muzaffar Khan, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Incharge of the DDC.

Naseem might have contracted the virus while sharing syringes with other drug addicts. Dr Muzaffer says, “He (Naseem) came to the hospital for the first time in 2008, with poly-substance abuse. He was admitted for 45 days. We treated him with medical and psychological intervention.”

Naseem was following the doctors’ advice for about a year. He was completely rehabilitated and was engaged in his father’s news agency to earn their living.

“After disturbance in Naseem’s hometown, he again relapsed and started taking drugs that he used to take before. But due to non-availability of drugs in the market, he switched to intravenous (IV) drugs. He was using injectables and sharing needles with the addicted circle of around 10-30 people, the doctor says.

For Naseem, it was the hardest moment of life when he came to know about his disease. “It was simply as if someone has put a dagger in my heart. And, it was a flashback how I was given a chance to relive my life. But, then I realized the repercussions of my mistakes,” says Naseem amid sobs.

When his health started deteriorating again, his family bought him back to the rehabilitation centre where he tested positive for Hepatitis C. “We referred him to SMHS hospital, where doctors prescribed a dosage of 24 injections of interferon costing Rs 16,000 each,” says Dr. Muzaffar.

Despite the emotional trauma, Naseem’s family is suffering due to his addiction, they are trying everything to raise the money for his treatment. The hapless family has sold off its assets and is hoping for some donations from any organization.

The use of IV drugs among groups of addicts exponentially raises chances of contracting many deadly diseases including Hepatitis-C. The Hepatitis-C virus is deadly and the antiretroviral medicines cost a fortune.

Dilawar Singh (name changed), 42, a resident of Achbal, in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district also caught hepatitis-C due to his habit of drug abuse. An addict for about 20 years, he would use anything from intravenous substances to liquor. His health suffered and so did his family.

“I was not aware that my husband was a drug addict and I came to know about it after a few years when my son was born. I was about to break my marriage, but, at that time I had to think about my son’s future,” says Dilawar’s wife.

She says that when her husband’s health started falling she took him to the DDC where he tested positive for hepatitis-C.  “We lost, both on economic as well as the social front. Luckily, I somehow motivated my husband and he promised me to be away from the drug menace,” she says.

As for Dilawar, he finally managed to kick off the habit which had strained relations within his family. He was treated in a way that he started his life afresh. But, still, his wife feels quite apprehensive at times for fears of his relapse into drug addiction.

“Though my husband has left the addiction of IV and other drugs he still drinks alcohol after every 15-20 days. But, the habit of 20 years cannot go instantly. I am trying to get him out of that too,” says Dilawar’s wife with a sigh.

Amandeep Singh (name changed), 38, is suffering from Hepatitis C. He has been on drugs for quite some time now. Starting with a drink with the friends he soon graduated to more potent drugs and narcotics. His family suffered the social stigma of having a drug addict son and the economic loss, his addiction would cost them.

“He began to lose his priorities both in academics and social life. We took him to de-addiction centres many times, and then for a year, he was on medication. But, he left that treatment halfway and started using drugs again,” says Riki Singh, Amandeep’s father.

Amandeep is addicted to narcotics and psychotropic substances so much that he would do anything to arrange the money to buy drugs.

Amandeep kicking the habit seems to be a hazy hope for his hapless family.

“I have left no stone unturned to motivate him. Even I had locked him in his room. But, as soon as I left for the office, he would motivate his mother and run from home,” says a distraught Riki Singh.

Doctors say that many valley youths are resorting to drug abuse and many take drugs in groups. With IV substances being accessible many drug addicts take it, sharing syringes with other drug addicts. Many of them steal from their homes to pay for the drugs they are hooked to.

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