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Guwahati: Twenty-six-year-old Abhijeet is grateful to Nirmaan Rehabilitation Centre for helping him put his life back on track. It’s been months now since he has been sober. Seven months ago, he would have never envisioned the life he is living now.

“As a child, nobody wishes to be a drug addict when they grow up. I was a good guy. I was preparing for my entrance exams and that’s when I started using drugs within my circle of friends, under peer pressure,” he said. 

“Curiosity is a human instinct. I thought I could quit using drugs anytime I wanted to. But the day I realised it was harming me, it was too late for me to quit. I tried to quit several times, but I failed every time. Gradually, my life started falling apart. My relationship with my family and friends deteriorated. I lost respect in society I was living in. The kids who used to respect me started disrespecting me. My family members stopped talking to me. I felt helpless. And that’s when I decided to seek help.”

Speaking about his initial withdrawal symptoms, he said, “I could feel the pain in my skin and veins. I was a cold turkey. My nose was bleeding and my family did not know how to help me. They were shocked and clueless and kept massaging my body the entire night.”

It was after Abhijit’s first withdrawal symptoms that made him realise that he could not walk on the path to recovery all by himself and had to seek help.

Due to the pandemic, Nirmaan is now operating at half the capacity | PC: EastMojo image

Shared spaces and group therapies are common settings in rehabs, where social distancing is difficult. Due to the pandemic, Nirmaan is now operating at half the capacity and adopting new techniques to provide uncompromised treatment.

“Usually, we used to conduct some family specific sessions where they are educated on addiction. Since we are not allowing visitors due to the pandemic, these sessions haven’t been possible. Not meeting their families for a long time also affects the patients emotionally,” said Arup Das, Program Coordinator of Nirmaan Rehabilitation Facility.

“Some of the drug abusers are ignorant to what is going on around them. They are not in a state to get their COVID tests done, acknowledge the protocols or maintain social distancing. If a drug addict turns COVID-19 positive and has to be admitted to the hospital, it is not easy for him to talk about his addiction to the doctor during treatment. This would lead to withdrawal effects and the patient might try to escape from the hospital, harm himself, and at times, this could even result in death. This is where it becomes important for a medic to be able to recognise the symptoms of a drug addict.”

While many addicts in Guwahati have recovered from the crutches of crumpling addiction, many are still struggling with it.

EastMojo contacted GOLD, an NGO providing syringes to drug addicts in Guwahati to check transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases due to sharing of needles among those who inject drugs. The NGO works in collaboration with Assam AIDS Control Society.

Under a harm reduction initiative called the ‘Sanskar Project’, field workers from the NGO provide sterile needles and syringes to drug users. The project also works on advising the addicts on how to avoid and manage overdose, information regarding safe handling of needles, its disposal, counselling sessions and medical referrals. Often, this initiative draws negative feedback as it is looked upon as a programme that encourages people to inject drugs.

‘Withdrawal’ is a long process that can only come to fruition through behavioural changes

Kaberi Sarma, a social worker at GOLD, mentioned that there are young boys and girls in Guwahati who have been injecting drugs into their bodies for years, and it is quite impossible for them to withdraw in a single day. She added that ‘withdrawal’ is a long process that can only come to fruition through behavioural changes.

“We have nurses to treat the abscess and ulcers developed in their bodies due to rigorous use of syringes. There is a stigma in society about drug users which often leads to mental harassment among abusers. To distract them from such negative thoughts, we have designed the Sanskar Project in a way that keeps them busy with several activities like ludo, carrom, quiz, etc.,” she said.

EastMojo spoke to a drug addict who sought help from GOLD to recover from addiction. Speaking on his addiction, he said, “I have been using drugs since 1986-87. I stay happy after injecting heroin in my body. Without it, I hardly get any work done. I did try withdrawing from it, but my body does not allow me.”

On being questioned about the money to purchase drugs, he said, “Money, of course, is a matter of concern. The one who has money at home, will steal from there. Others will steal from others. I spend around Rs 500-700 per day on drugs.”

Also Read | Assam: Doctors alarmed over rising drug addiction among Goalpara youth

How easy is it to score drugs in Guwahati?

Under a harm reduction initiative called the ‘Sanskar Project’, field workers from the NGO provide sterile needles and syringes to drug users

“You get drugs everywhere in Guwahati.”

As a part of Assam’s new Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s relentless campaign and war on drugs, Assam police has been on its toes and arrested more than 500 drug peddlers in the past month. Police have seized large quantities of illegal substances worth over Rs 23.8 crore.

But the war on drugs is not a new phenomenon. In 2016, investigations after the arrest of druglord Elahi Sheikh revealed that synthetic drugs are peddled in Assam through a network across India and from across the borders of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Injectable heroin is smuggled into the Northeast from places as far as Shan State, bordering China.

Speaking along similar lines, Kaberi Sarma said, “The police have been arresting the small peddlers and not the drug lords. If they are not able to nab the people in top positions or track drug routes like Myanmar and Manipur, illegal narcotics will continue to flow in Assam. The drive against illicit drug trafficking is a good step, but unless the main mafias are arrested and the root market is identified, Assam will not be a substance-free society.” 

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