Deaths due to heroin abuse stark reality in Kashmir

At Drug De-Addiction Centre (DAC) of Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar here, 15 out of 20 patients undergoing treatment were abusing heroin, the records reveal. One among them, a 19 year old youth from an affluent family, said three people he knew as fellow heroin addicts have died this year.

“I do not want to die like them. I want to rid myself of this curse,” he said. While narrating the painful ordeals of their struggles with heroin addiction, he said one of them was on treatment but relapsed when he went back from hospital. “His first dose (of heroin) after treatment proved to be his last,” he said.

Having seen their fellow addicts losing their lives to the dangerous drug these young men are now seeking treatment for heroin addiction. The number of treatment seekers and deaths has seen increase recently, doctors at the centre said.

Another young man, in his 20s, also admitted in the same Center, said that at least four young people he knew taking heroin died in the recent past. “Their families know how they died but because of the stigma attached with the addiction, the truth remains buried,” he said.

Dr Arshid Hussain, Professor of Psychiatry at the GMC, said “patient narratives and circumstantial evidence” was pointing towards the fact that substance use disorders in general and opioids in particular is becoming death trap for young in Kashmir.

“World over it is the third leading cause of death in young… if things continue like this, we might not be far away,” he said.

Dr Yasir H Rather, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the GMC and in-charge DAC, said that deaths due to heroin go unreported or are hushed up due to social reasons.

Nevertheless, he said, people who are in knowhow of youth dying in this unfortunate manner, were fully aware of the cause of deaths and many of them, who were also into the abuse of heroin have been coming forward to seek treatment.

“These deaths are a stark reality that is staring the abusers in face and once they see a person they know dying of an overdose or some other complication, it serves as an eye-opener,” he said.

However, he said, the number of people coming forward for help was still “very low”.

Psychiatrists at the GMC said that there was no data available about deaths attributable for substance abuse. Dr Rather said that even in hospitals, where many such deaths take place, it was difficult to retrieve records related to substance abuse deaths.

“In such a scenario, it is snowballing technique only that could yield information about such deaths,” he said. Snowball is a research technique where one participant chooses or recommends other participant in a study.

He said that through his interactions with patients at the Centre, it was quite clear that many deaths are taking place in and outside hospitals due to heroin abuse.

He said that heroin abuse through injections has increased over the recent past and it was a gateway to death by overdose, spread of infections like Hepatitis B, C and HIV, in additions to other health hazards like damage to internal organs.

“It is a ticking time bomb… and just the tip of iceberg,” he said.

Dr Hussain underlined the fact that heroin related deaths were preventable and a vigilant society with strict control mechanisms in place could make that possible. “For the sake of a generation every one of us needs to contribute to reducing substance abuse,” he said.

As per records available at DAC, at the beginning of 2019, around 25 percent of people admitted for heroin abuse were using the drug intravenously, while in June, the percentage increased to around 50 percent.