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New Deaddiction Centre in Distressed Kashmir Valley Hopes to Quell Drug Abuse

Dr. Riyaz Ahmad

In April, Bugdam District of Central Kashmir’s first deaddiction centre was opened. Kashmir Valley has suffered greatly from the militancy of the last two decades and the drug addiction situation is dire. This centre, Khansahib, started by Dr. Riyaz Ahmad Rather has already seen a good response from the community, with awareness being spread and people being freed from their addictions. We interviewed Dr. Riyaz in order to learn more about the situation.

We understand that your centre is the only one of its kind in the surrounding area. What was it like starting a deaddiction centre in a community that so desperately needed help?

As I mentioned already, the centre is the first of its kind in Central Kashmir’s Budgam District, was established due to my personal efforts and of course would not have been possible without the help of my seniors. Starting the centre in this particular area was desperately needed as the prevalence of multi-substance users is very high in Kashmir in general but particularly in this area. Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that being employed in a government health department and posted in this particular hospital, it was a bit easier for me to open such clinic in said place for which recommendation was made by the director of National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (AIIMS), Gaziabad, New Delhi.

The aftermath of the militancy in the Kashmir Valley must be devastating. How has this affected the drug abuse and addiction problem in your community?

The prevailing situation in the valley devastated every field. Education, development, the socio-economic scenario, unemployment, and health are all fields which have been badly effected by the two decade long militancy. As is the story of every conflict zone of the world, mental health problems of the community here are on the rise. The whole population– elders, youngsters, men and women are equally suffering mental trauma which I think has dragged youngsters in particular towards illegal activities and so towards drug abuse. Moreover, due to the lack of any drug policy from the government, the free availability of prescribing drugs and other substance is another cause of the rise in substance use.

What is the most common addiction you deal with? Have you seen any trends in the age group of most patients?

The common addiction I deal with is multiple substance users, as well as nicotine dependents, opiate users, cannabis users, benzodiazipines users and very few alcoholics. Prescribing drug users are also commonly attending my centre.

How does Khansahib Drug De-Addiction Centre care for the needs of, and treat women and youngsters? Are they cared for differently then the men?

The trend in youngsters for drug abuse is very high here and the use among college students is on rise. Unemployed youths too are falling into the menace of addiction. Due to social and religious stigma, women folk less commonly visit my centre and I think the prevalence among women here is not so high.

What do you see as the greatest action India needs to take in order to stop the spread of addiction in our country?

As we know, India is geographically sandwiched between countries where maximum cultivation of drugs and trafficking occurs. Many laws are there to stop illegal cultivation, trafficking, and marketing, but still the drug addiction here is very alarming. I think we need more comprehensive policies from Centre as well as State governments. Ministry of health, social justice and other minstries are doing much to treat already addicts. Some NGOS too are doing a commendable job in eradicating the menace. The doctors who are doing some efforts on their level should be encouraged and supported by the concerned departments. And of course, more centres are needed for treatment.

How did you get involved in De-Addiction services? Do you enjoy your work?

Being a medical professional, I was shocked to see four young drug addict deaths in my locality and right from there I decided to do something about it. However, I could not do anything at that point due to various reasons. But, as they say “God helps those who help themselves,” and I was deputed for substance use training at National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (AIIMS), Gaziabad, New Dehli. After completion of the training, due to efforts of my seniors, I was able to start the centre.

If you were giving advice to someone else starting a centre, what are a few things you would tell them?

My sincere appeal for every young doctor would be that everybody should play a role to curb the further spread of addiction. Doctors who want to set up a centre should receive specialized training and must have zeal to work for such a noble cause and of course should seek appreciation and timely support from higher officials.