Delhi's drug crisis Part 5: Policy makers need to understand substance addiction as a public health disaster

Editor's note: The author, OSD to Delhi Minister for Health Satyender Jain, has been working closely with different stakeholders on mapping and tackling drug addiction in the capital for the last one and a half years. He responded to the four-part series on Delhi’s drug crisis put out by Firstpost and gave a glimpse into the Delhi’s government’s greater plan.

In the beginning of 2017, the government had acknowledged the complexity of the problem of drug addiction by setting up an inter-sectoral committee, which included stakeholders from the Delhi Police, the Narcotics Bureau; members from the departments of Social Welfare and Women & Child Development, Education, Health and Labour, doctors from Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS) and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), NGOs like Save the Children and Salaam Baalak Trust, and the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi.

A survey was conducted jointly by AIIMS and Women and Child Development Department in 2016. In April 2017, Firstpost had also published a big story around its findings – particularly, the 70,000 child addicts on Delhi’s streets.

Soon, a detailed survey in 159 areas of Delhi will be initiated in consultation with AIIMS. However, the absence of factual data on numbers doesn’t deter us from initiating our plans.

The Delhi government has started augmenting its detox capacity with five beds reserved exclusively for de-addiction facilities in each of its six hospitals. Other than that, a 30-bedded de-addiction facility has been started in Deep Chand Bandhu Hospital. The deputy chief minister has recently inaugurated Delhi’s first residential de-addiction home, only for Girls, which is being run from a Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) building near Delhi Gate. Since the treatment is completely voluntary in nature and the withdrawals are so drastic that chances of relapse in the middle of the treatment become common, the caretakers appointed with the addicts are themselves recovering addicts, and hence know about this complex disease and can act as psychological support for these strugglers to stay clean during the long phase of treatment. However, there exists a huge number of addicts who encounter relapse more than 5-6 times. Fortunately there are support groups available, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous who are free of cost and are working to take care of the psycho-social needs of both the recovering addict and the addict’s family members.

A nukkad natak being performed in a Delhi slum. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

A nukkad natak being performed in a Delhi slum. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

We request policy makers to understand this issue as a public health disaster rather than just a psychological ailment.

As the drug menace is not confined to a single department, the Delhi government is coming up with a society exclusively to tackle and deal with all the issues, be it prevention, harm reduction, supply reduction, demand reduction or rehabilitation. No other state has paid such attention by devising a special purpose vehicle like the one we are working on. Another big difference in the strategy of the Delhi government in comparison to other states is its focus on the majority of its population which is not into addiction, through various ground-level prevention campaigns, like the one which has been initiated in collaboration with various Delhi-based universities and colleges where students were sensitised and educated towards the ill effects of drug use and why smoking and alcohol aren’t ‘cool’. Notably, a number of celebrities had joined the campaign, including Rahul Dravid, Prateik Babbar, Raghu Ram and Gul Panag.

Along with spreading the message in and around the campus, Delhi University’s various dramatic societies helped us take the message far and wide. With them, we have prepared a number of street plays that are now part of a community education/sensitisation campaign. The government has prepared a plan of conducting over a thousand nukkad nataks in the most vulnerable communities where drug abuse is prevalent. Coming up next is a mega drive where students of Delhi’s government schools will be sensitised against tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Once a society is formed, all such initiatives related to prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration of the person affected with drug abuse with the society, will be administered by the society itself.

Currently, a special drive in the area of Yamuna Pusta and ISBT, Kashmere Gate has been initiated, which will detoxify and rehabilitate a large number of people who are under the influence of drugs and are lying on streets around these areas. A meeting has been held under the chairpersonship of the Secretary, Ministry of Women & Child Development wherein all the stakeholders including the Drug Control Department of the Delhi Government and officials from Delhi Police were present. A detailed programme has been drafted in consultation with various NGOs and National Skill Development Corporation, which, aside from treatment and detoxification, also includes strategy to provide Aadhaar cards, open bank accounts and provide skill training to those who will be recovering from addiction. This is a first of its kind initiative being planned by the Delhi government and we believe that this will prove to be a life changing initiative for these victims of the drug menace.

There is a decentralised plan that has been prepared to treat and rehabilitate an addict with the help of health services where adults, children and women will be provided with separate infrastructure to treat themselves and stay clean. The role of an informed and vigilant citizen is vital when it comes to making the society crime and addiction free. There is no official data available, but as per sources we trust, around 80 percent of the undertrials in different Delhi jails have accepted that they regularly consume alcohol or any addictive substance.

There is also ambiguity in the current laws dealing with people who are under the influence of drugs, as the police are instructed to put them behind bars, instead of providing them with the right treatment. Because of the fear of custodial death, the police are generally afraid of nabbing peddlers who sell these drugs and are also on a heavy dose of life-threatening drugs themselves.

It is high time we protect our youth from this menace and build a safety network around them by creating structures which induce them in more productive and healthy ways of living life and provide them with a safe living environment, which may not available to them in the existing peer group or around the family structure. In fact this is one of the biggest responsible factors in deducing the onset age of a substance abuser. The Delhi government is doing a pilot project with the most vulnerable adolescents of Yamuna Bazar and Petti Market where adolescents will be made ‘Young Champions’ after hours of regular motivational counselling, de-addiction and their reintegration with the school life. Life skill-based education will be provided to them through various activities and games and with lots of peer support talks. A similar initiative with the NGO Save the Children has not only changed the behaviour of such children but has made them proud civilians. They have been educated about how to file RTIs and whom to contact when their rights are compromised. Awareness about health, hygiene, sexual behaviour and psychological health and respecting each gender equally are a few key topics to make them emotionally and physically fit.

Meanwhile the inter-sectorial committee has decided that all the enforcement agencies, be it Delhi Police, Narcotics Control Bureau or Drug Controller, will now be working in close co-ordination with each other and will be launching coordinated raids more often than usual. To work out the strategy, all agencies will meet at least once in every month.

We in the Delhi Government believe that all our efforts have to be more and more decentralised and community- based rather than centralised and state-based, The role of mohalla clinics which are going to set up in the most vulnerable community, to further facilitate treatments like Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) Treatment is also under the discussion and will be worked out very soon.

Part 1 of the series

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series

Part 4 of the series

Updated Date: Nov 11, 2017 21:50 PM

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