CONCERN | 10-year-old admitted for Heroin abuse, Hepatitis C

Srinagar, July 24: When Ghulam Ahmed (name changed), an elderly man from a north Kashmir district entered the OPD of Drug De-Addiction Center at SMHS Hospital with his two sons in their 40s, a young boy yet to get into his teens tagged along.

Doctors first thought that the child was just accompanying his father and uncle. But then it was a shocker: Ahmed broke down telling the doctors that apart from his son who required to be admitted for Heroin abuse through syringes, this child too had marks on his arms now. “My entire family has been devastated by this drug,” he said.

The 10 year old boy is under treatment currently and is back home with his family after receiving therapy under strict supervision of de-addiction experts.

He is on Opioid Substitution Therapy, a treatment regimen that makes it possible to give up heroin and other opium derivative drugs, highly addictive and with life-threatening consequences. During the course of investigations at the hospitals, doctors found out that the boy had been infected with Hepatitis C virus, a common infection among IV drug abusers. Hepatitis C, if left untreated, can lead to liver cirrhosis and prove to be fatal.

With support from the Department of Gastroenterology at GMC Srinagar, the boy is now being treated for this serious viral disease as well.

“I have my fingers crossed,” says Prof. Yasir Hassan Rather, In-Charge of the Center. He is wary of the high relapse rate among IV Heroin abusers and insists that the follow-ups need to be regular and treatment needs to be adhered to strictly. “We need to counsel the entire family as they all need to be involved in creating a support system,” he says.

The boy, Prof Hassan feels, has a good chance to beat the addiction provided he and his family work closely on it. “I have worked for years with people suffering from addiction but his face breaks my heart,” he says.

“IV Heroin at this age is devastating. May be devastating is a weak word for this tragedy,” he expresses his anguish.

The boy, this psychiatrist said, had seen his father and uncle abuse heroin through syringes and the curiosity and availability in a group that he had started interacting with, made him take the step that could very well cost him his life. “The environment, the peer group, the easy availability, the risk taking impulse, and the curiosity is a dangerous scenario and unfortunately we have it all around now,” Prof Hassan says.

Prof Hassan said that the age of starting experimenting with drugs had lowered and the number of cases of young people addicted to dangerous drugs had increased over the past few years. He said that young boys in early teens were common. “The past few years and the lockdowns have added fuel and made a more favourable environment for substance abuse in Kashmir,” he says.

Doctors insist that parents need to play an important role in preventing their children from falling to the substance abuse. “If you suspect any behaviour changes, please consult a professional psychiatrist,” he stresses while adding that early intervention could help avert a future crisis.

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