“Instead of a criminal or a drug addict, I was looking at a boy – just a boy.”
― Shannon A. Thompson, author of the 2012 released novel, Take Me Tomorrow
A person who was once loveable, happy and reasonably successful had become surly, disrespectful, and defiant. No attempts to talk to him were fruitful. Privileges and things special to him had been taken away. He constantly played with criminal behavior – behavior that could put him into jail. He injected things into his body that could kill him. He’s had many a tough times with the local police and was even kicked out of his own house. Nothing seemed to be going well for him. This is the story of Bhola.
His name means ‘innocence’; a trait which he unfortunately lost the day his friends convinced him to try some Heroin (aka Smack). Bhola, who used to stay on the footpaths of Panipat, used to work as a labourer. Although he was an alcoholic, he never thought he would indulge in drugs. An addict for 2 years, he recalls, “Woh bahut aaram deete hain aur main acche se so sakta hoon. Issiliye mujhe chodne ka mann nahi kiya.” (Heroin gave me much rest and relief from stress. I could sleep well as night. That’s why I never felt like giving it up. )
This was 2 years ago but Bhola still has injection wounds all over his right arm. Found lying on the footpaths of Panipat by Turning Point Foundation’s outreach workers, on being brought to the center he was first tested for HIV/AIDs, then prescribed for Opioid Substitution Therapy (OSTs).
Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) or Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT) is the medical procedure of replacing an illegal opioid, such as heroin, with a longer acting but less euphoric opioid; methadone or buprenorphine are typically used and the drug is taken under medical supervision. The driving principle behind OST/ORT is the program’s capacity to facilitate a resumption of stability in the user’s life, while they experience reduced symptoms of withdrawal symptoms and less intense drug cravings; however, a strong euphoric effect is not experienced as a result of the treatment drug. “One might think we are encouraging the whole drug taking in thing. But it’s an approach that has been designed which is known to be less harmful. This has been tried and licensed by the central government too. If we were to give a complete and outright no, victims would run away. Hence, we slowly build a rapport with them and convince them to come to the center where we start by giving them OSTs and sterilized needles and syringes. It has two benefits – it prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS and OSTs help reduce the craving too,” adds Mr. Thomas.
After 1.5 years of therapy, Bhola’s cravings have reduced. He wants to quit drugs and move ahead with his life and reunite with his family – something he should soon be able to do. He has resumed work (as a labourer) and comes to the drop-in center at Panipat to relax, watch some television, eat good food, and also take his prescribed OSTs.
Bhola is just one of the 2,500 drug/alcohol addicts that TPF has helped over the past decade. Established in 2000, the organisation provides health care facilities to people from marginalised societies. To effectively address issues related to drug abuse, HIV/AIDS and alcohol abuse, it runs a centre to cure addiction and rehabilitation. The main treatments used in these centres are naturopathy and yoga. Treatment plan covers psychological counselling, medically supervised detoxification, family counselling, psychiatric supervision and also preventing relapses. They have also set up Information Education and Counselling (IEC) camps on HIV /AIDS. More than 4,000 vulnerable people, especially injecting drug-users, have been advised on the effects of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.
“Our aim is to reach out to youths and propagate the ill-effects of drug-addiction. We hope to see a future where there is no drug abuse; awareness about Drugs and HIV and also give people a little hope on this road of recovery,” adds Mr. Thomas.
The organization uses a threefold approach, which has not only proved effective but has been adapted in other organizations which work with health issues.
• Preventive: Taking measures to avoid the use of any form of toxic substances
• Curative: A period of rehabilitation
• Health promotion: promoting a healthy lifestyle
Adoptions by other organizations, is just of the hidden compliments that helps TPF stay motivated; which is much needed given that the realities of the on-ground work can be extremely harsh and difficult. As Mr. Thomas said, “Taking drugs is an unlawful activity. Drug users thus stay underground. Our outreach workers are thus appointed from the communities themselves; then trained to identify users, build a rapport with them, and bring them to the center. It’s quite a process.” During my chat with Vivek, one of TPF’s outreach workers, he shared with me, “Many a times, drug addicts refuse to speak with us. Sometimes, friends stop them; sometimes, they themselves get violent because s/he is acting under the influence of drugs. These times, we step back and re-approach them, when they calm down.”
Other than outreach workers, TPF also involves other individuals or institutions that can help spread the impact of their program. These could be community leaders or local political leaders whose support goes a long way, when it comes to organizing camps etc.
It’s great to see the organisation doing whatever it takes to help addicts experience a ‘turning point’ for the better.