Valley News Desk

Heroin abuse doubles in Kashmir post lockdown

A parallel epidemic, unnoticed: Doctors*


Zehru Nissa

Srinagar, December 19 :In the past one year, abuse of intravenous drugs especially heroin has doubled in Kashmir, hospital data hints. Doctors call it an epidemic running parallel to COVID19, but a silent one.

In the past three months, people reporting for treatment of substance abuse at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) are rising steeply. Doctors at the Institute said that it was alarming to see that most of these cases involve abuse of heroin through intravenous route. Calling it “the most dangerous” drug in the market here, the doctors said figures were “deeply disturbing”. Data maintained by the department reveals that in October 2020, 250 people had registered for treatment of heroin abuse. Similarly in November, 233 cases had registered. However, this December, upto the 15th, 300 new cases of IV heroin abuse were registered for treatment.

In December 2019, the number was “just above 150” . Reading the trend, Dr Yasir Rather, Associate Professor at GMC Srinagar said, “It is a new phenomenon, essentially post lockdown.” He said while the number of new users dropped significantly in March and the couple of months that followed, in the past 3-4 months, the treatment seekers are “all new users”. “There was a disruption in supply chain following lockdowns, in August and in March and we had an increase in the number of treatment seekers because they could not get their hands on the drugs they abused,” he said. Further, he said, the months that followed saw a drop in treatment seeking and now, there was a sudden spike of new users.

Dr Rather said the demographic details and counseling sessions with the new users reveals that most of them are “young people who lost their avenues of earning or lost the occupations, including studies”. “There is a recreational factor as well,” he said elaborating that during the periods of lockdown, young people assembled in groups and peer pressure pushed them into drug abuse. “The scary thing is that they start with IV heroin,” he said.

Dr Arshid Hussain, professor of psychiatry at GMC Srinagar, said that one person seeking treatment meant that there were “20 out there” yet to take the step. “The anecdotal evidence is disturbing. The deaths due to overdose are a reality,” he said. Prof Hussain said that as envisaged in the Drug policy, the Government was working towards increasing access to treatment facilities across districts. “10 integrated Addiction Treatment Facilities in district hospitals are being set up with assistance from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The supply chain is not in our hands but we can help address part of the problem by having a robust treatment seeking system in place,” he said..(GK)

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