Doctors, mental health workers call it understatement

Srinagar,  July 2:

A recent survey by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) says 4.9 percent of J&K population has been abusing opioid drugs. But mental health workers and doctors consider even this alarming number an underestimate.

In February this year, the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, submitted its report “Magnitude of Substance Use in India”

The first-of-its-kind study, sponsored by the MoSJE, gives state-wise estimates of the prevalence of drug abuse, measured through household survey among general population and respondent-driven sampling. Both legal and illegal substance use of abuse were studied.

The study reported that in J&K, 4.9 percent of population, which amounts to over 6 lakh individuals (as per Census 2011), was abusing opium derivate drugs including “doda, phukki, poppy husk, heroin, brown sugar, smack and pharmaceutical opioids”.

Excluding north-eastern states, which have been devastated by high prevalence of substance abuse, J&K stands at number five in terms of opioid abuse. Neighboring state of Punjab tops the list.

In terms of other drugs, the report states higher than national average abuse of inhalants and sedatives, very low prevalence of alcohol abuse, low prevalence of cannabis abuse and almost zero prevalence of cocaine.

The state, as per the report has, 25098 people abusing drugs through injections, exposing them to a high risk of infections such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV.

However, many mental health workers who were part of the study said that the number might be an understatement.

A psychologist who participated in the study said that since data collection primarily depended on household surveys— where the field staff collecting data would walk randomly into a selected household and ask whether someone in the family was abusing drugs—most of the responses were expected to be in negative.

In Jammu, however, he said, the staff did not face much of a problem in collecting data.

He said that due to this and other factors, the figures arrived at were likely to be lower than the actual prevalence in the state, Kashmir particularly.

Dr M Maqbool Dar, head department of psychiatry, expressed the need for having a state-based holistic survey to assess the exact extent and nature of substance abuse in Kashmir.

“We have hospital based data but it has limitations,” he said. He underlined the need to have a “solid data base” to implement State’s Drug De-Addiction Policy better.

“We have two hands at task here – reducing availability and reducing demand and this needs coordinated efforts by every department, every community and every individual,” he said and added that the success of this endeavour also depended on dependable intelligence.

DrYasir H Rather, associate professor of psychiatry at GMC, Srinagar, and in-charge of Drug De-Addiction Center (DAC), said that although the AIIMS report was holistic and shocking, the actual prevalence of substance abuse could be higher. “Our experience tells us that substance abuse, especially of opioids has risen over the years,” he said.

He urged that a number of steps needed to be put in place to reduce the burden of drug abuse and resulting social and health issues in the State.

“Providing treatment which is easily accessible and devoid of stigma and taboo is the basic step,” he said. He said that in addition, individuals and social groups needed to build pressure against people involved in making drugs available.

Courtesy: Greater Kashmir