Chennai's snort story: Hope lies in rehab centres

The depiction of de-addiction centres and rehabilitation centres as we see on the silver screen and media platforms are generally unrealistic and misleading, enough to instil fear among those who badly require them. These centres are perceived to be abusive and toxic, but experts say licensed centres can give another lease of life to those struggling with drug addiction.
The patients brought for rehabilitation need identification and their symptoms have to be identified before getting proper help.
The patients brought for rehabilitation need identification and their symptoms have to be identified before getting proper help.Illustration by Saai

CHENNAI: We often come across news on drug seizures and special drives being undertaken by city police and the state Health Department to check drug peddling. But is that the only solution to end the menace of substance abuse and drug dependency?

Experts opine that addiction — be it snorted, sniffed or smoked — does not stop there. While there is no one way or guaranteed way to prevent someone from abusing drugs, there are things that one can do to overcome the situation. And the most important of them all is proper rehabilitation at a de-addiction centre. It could do miracles in helping one overcome an addiction, be it in any form.

Why de-addiction?

20-year-old Kishore* has been under treatment for drug addiction for about six years and what started as smoking ganja gradually progressed to even getting snake bites to get high.

“I don’t know what made such anger flow within me, and I threw a fish tank on my father. He just escaped it. I was high on LSD or ganja almost all the time. When I ran out of OCB (Odet Cascadec Bollore) sheets (premium paper used for rolling smoking drugs), one midnight, I rushed to an ATM kiosk and made use of the paper slips generated on cash withdrawal to roll the joint and slept on the terrace,” he narrates.

Kishore says that under the influence of his friends, he later tried snakebites and spent more than Rs 1.25 lakh on it. “I was unconscious for a long time and didn’t even know if I was in a coma or something. I was then admitted to various hospitals and more than Rs 7-8 lakh were spent on my treatment, but I couldn’t get rid of drugs. I realised after a few months of treatment that I want to lead a normal life,” says Kishore. Kishore is now admitted to the deaddiction ward of the Institute of Mental Health and is undergoing treatment and rehabilitation.

A patient at another deaddiction centre, 40-year-old Raghu Kumar* says he has been admitted to the centre after no one in his family wanted to be around him out of fear.

“I was violent and very aggressive, which led to my family members disowning me. I wasted a lot of money on alcohol and drugs. Under peer pressure, I did not realise it then and even used the jewellery of my sisters for buying ganja. I was admitted to a hospital by one of my relatives when I was almost unconscious and fell sick. I would go days without eating and that made me sick. I was later brought to the centre and after a series of therapies and medications, I felt de-addiction is my only chance to win back my family,” says Raghu.

Identification of symptoms

The patients brought for rehabilitation need identification and their symptoms have to be identified before getting proper help. “It is usually the kin of those addicted to drugs who bring them to the hospital. We keep a motivational approach while interviewing them and talking to them on how rehabilitation can indeed help them overcome drug addiction,” says Dr Poorna Chandrika, director of the Institute of Mental Health.

The treatment for each patient varies from one to another, based on their symptoms and the type of addiction. “Besides medication, there are a series of therapies that are given to these patients, including art therapy, dance, meditation, Yoga and meetings with the recovered patients. They are trained in some form of sports or games as per their wish and the staff interacts with them on a daily basis to ensure they adhere to the treatment and rehabilitation schedule,” added Dr Chandrika.

Next step after identification

“Drugs start with curiosity, boredom, peer pressure; then it becomes dependence; and finally, addiction. We have to identify the behaviour of an individual and then help them find the right place for them to recover. Sometimes patients themselves understand that they need to get rid of drugs, but there is a lack of access, taboo and hesitation to seek help. Once addiction is identified, we need to address the challenges in seeking support by normalising the deaddiction and rehabilitation process,” says Dr Vandhana, consultant psychologist at V-Cope.

Despite a streamlined process of rehabilitation, there is a stigma on seeking help for drug abuse and experts say that there is a need for more deaddiction centres apart from awareness against drug abuse and rehabilitation. The idea of deaddiction centres and rehabilitation does not convince many people that there is hope to bring back a person to normalcy.

“We see parents finding seeking help for deaddiction or rehabilitation support a taboo even after their child or kin reports sick, or is involved in a crime or has been suffering from mental health problems due to drug abuse. But the right thing to do after knowing someone who you know is a victim of drug abuse is to find de-addiction and rehabilitation centres. The preconceived ideas of deaddiction are what they have seen in movies but the reality is not so. The patients are seen as individuals who need emotional and psychological support besides medication,” says a staffer at a deaddiction and rehabilitation centre in Choolaimedu.

Doctors say the use of drugs impacts the brain, and the thinking capacity to such an extent that the patients are not sure when they are going beyond their control and how drug abuse is impacting their life.

“Drugs impact the thinking capacity, judgement and behaviour of an individual because there is a shrinkage of the temporal lobe that makes it difficult for them to decide if what is right and what is wrong. In such circumstances, it is important for people surrounding such people to guide them towards de-addiction.

Process of recovery

While the impact of drugs can be huge, timely intervention through deaddiction centres and rehabilitation can bring back people to a normal lifestyle. Those under treatment are given various therapies to help them revive. Various social workers and non-profit organisations are also a part of the rehabilitation work in de-addiction centres to provide support to patients.

“Lending ear to recovered patients helps these people see what’s beyond addiction in their life, and how they can lead a happy life after the rehabilitation process. Similarly, being a part of some hobby related to sports or art keeps them engaged and gives them a sense of achievement. We also send them to participate in several art and sports competitions,” says Rosie, a social worker at the Institute of Mental Health.

After a few weeks of their admission, we can witness a change in the behaviour of these patients and they are willing to give up the addiction. The series of counselling apart from these therapies along with the right kind of medication is a comprehensive model of treatment being given to patients of drug abuse, she added.

Need for more rehabilitation centres and licensing

Recalling the incident of a drug abuse patient beaten to death at a deaddiction centre in Royapettah, experts point out that while emphasizing deaddiction and rehabilitation, such incidents of human rights violation bring to the fore the pitfalls. The need of the hour is better awareness among people and licensed centres adopting the right approach.

“We go to nearby schools to conduct programmes against substance abuse as more children and teenagers are becoming victims. The age limit is coming down in such cases. All the psychiatry wards in general hospitals besides the Institute of Mental Health cater to the need of people with substance dependency and abuse. Anyone can walk into a PHC, taluk hospital or any other hospital to seek help for substance abuse and addiction. The medical officers will connect them to district mental health psychiatrists for further assistance. We have exclusive de-addiction centres as part of the district mental health program in the State in Kancheepuram, Tirupur and Vellore,” said Dr Poorna Chandrika.

She added that licensing of deaddiction centres is to be done by the State Mental Health Authority and every patient’s family has the right to ask them whether they are licensed and see document proof.

“There is a need for more licensed deaddiction centres in all the districts. The unlicensed centres try to lure the people and even human rights violations occur in such centres. It is important to do a check on the deaddiction and rehabilitation centre. If any centre is found not licensed, people should bring it to the notice of the police or the State mental health authority so that action can be initiated,” she added.

(*Name changed to protect identity)

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