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The long reach of drug addiction in India

Dec 05, 2017

India must make a quick move for addressing the lack of professional addiction treatment centers, writes Dr Tonmoy Sharma.

New Delhi: According to India government officials, the country has witnessed a 455 percent increase in drug busts from 2011 to 2013. In the nearly four years since that time, the problem of drug addiction throughout the country has grown at  alarming rate. According to a 2015 report from the Narcotics Control Bureau, Ministry of Home affairs, India's proximity to the major opium-producing regions of Southwest and Southeast Asia—the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle, respectively—India is a prime location for the transit, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs. These deadly substances are easily moved into the interior of the country, and it is taking its toll.

One of the hotspots is the state of Punjab, where more than 860,000 young men between the ages of 15 and 35 years take drugs, especially heroin, opium and synthetic drugs, which are much more potent and deadly than regular street drugs. One estimate indicates that more than two-thirds of Punjab households have an addict in the family. Overall, the government estimates, more than 2 million people are addicts in the state. Government statistics on Delhi are similarly grim; children are becoming addicted to heroin or opium at age 12 and 13 years. With 18 percent of the world's population that falls in the 15 to 64 years age group, India is a prime target for drug dealers, and they are getting rich off the country's misery. Addiction to drugs is growing throughout the country and illicit substances are becoming more and more readily available nationwide.

Drug addiction costs lives, and billions in lost productivity. It tears apart families, communities and can destroy economies. Addiction is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower on behalf of the addict. Rather, drugs change the brain in ways that make it nearly impossible to stop using. People who are addicted cannot quit on their own; they need evidence-based, specialized care from qualified professionals that focuses on their physical symptoms and mental issues (up to 60 percent of drug users have a co-occurring mental health condition).

Here is the problem—there is a grave shortage of professional drug treatment facilities in India.

In Delhi, for example, there are only five drug rehabilitation centers in Delhi, which are partly funded by the government and managed by non-government organizations. And the extant treatment centers are facing delays in receiving the funds needed to operate efficiently. Hospitals that have beds earmarked exclusively for addiction treatment do not have adequate staffing.

According to a recent article in the Hindustan Times, Dr. Atul Ambekar of the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, commented that most drug efforts focus on restricting the influx of drugs into the country. "The focus has to shift to demand reduction by preventing addiction and providing more treatment facilities for addicts," Dr. Ambekar commented.

Addiction treatment requires staffing round the clock to ensure patients' comfort, safety and successful recovery; detoxification alone can take weeks and treatment must be intensive and lengthy to decrease the chance of relapse. Each patient requires a team of qualified care givers to help her/him manage the mental and physical aspects of therapy. Treatment requires a combination of medical and therapeutic approaches, yet a recent report from the Economic Times' Health World indicates that approximately 70 percent of addiction treatment centers in India do not have the standard treatment and care facilities necessary for success. India also faces a shortage of long stay homes, which help patients to recover before being released into the same environment where they became addicted.

According to the Health World article, psychiatrist and current director of Tulasi Health Care at Mehrauli Gorav Gupta commented, "The medical science is evolving and new techniques like ultra rapid detox, where the patient is detoxed in 48 to 72 hours are being used." Dr. Gupta added, "Many new medicines for craving and withdrawal are being used such as naltrexone, topiramate and acamprol. However, at least 50 percent of the centers are hardly able to avail the drugs due to lack of resources."

The country must move to address this lack of professional addiction treatment centers. Drug use is steadily increasing. Research has proven that people who are addicted need evidence-based treatment that uses a variety of approaches. Patients also need follow-up after being released from treatment to decrease the risk of relapse. Action must be taken quickly to address this shortage before we lose more generations to the scourge of drugs.

Dr Tonmoy Sharma is Chief Executive Officer at Sovereign Healthcare.

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