LAHORE: The Punjab government has failed to operationalise the 100-bed rehabilitation facility for the drug addicts in Punjab Institute of Mental Health despite its completion two years ago, which dented the efforts not just to rehabilitate the drug addicts but to stop its proliferation in society.
The building infrastructure of this model project for rehabilitation of addicts of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) was completed in 2016, yet the government didn't provide the necessary infrastructure, medical and ancillary staff to accommodate the addicts currently roaming around the streets of Lahore.
Fifty-two treatment centres are providing services in the city of Lahore in which only five centres function under government and 44 are run under private umbrella, which largely go unchecked and need to be regulated especially in the backdrop of the Punjab government’s recent crackdown on a drug rehabilitation centre in the Shadbagh area keeping hundreds of addicts in inhuman conditions in 30-bed infirmary.
“We will be in a position to serve the drug addicts in a better way if the Punjab government starts operating the 100-bed facility in Punjab Institute of Mental Health, Jail Road, Lahore, by introducing drug preventive packages and providing treatment facilities to drug addicts at footpaths, gardens, playgrounds and other areas of Lahore", said Syed Zulfiqar Hussain, consultant anti-drug/narcotics campaign.
The annual report of 2017 by Drug Advisory Training Hub (DATH) and Youth Council for Anti-Narcotics (YOCFAN) also mentioned this issue while bringing to light the incapability of the Punjab Institute of Mental Health in general where only three patients are admitted daily while all else are rejected. Different types of drugs like A-class drugs heroin, cocaine, hashish, LSD, Ecstasy Tablets Cristal Ice, injections and B-class drugs alcohol, opium, cannabis, gutka, bhang, ethanol and various other chemicals that are easily available in the market. And number of young drug addicts has increased speedily. We see hundreds of young boys and girls attending different drugs parties and people injecting themselves at public places. Some most important areas of metro bus service are hotspots for drug addicts, whereas other potential spots for them could be Orange Line Train track.
Dr Nabeel Ibad, a psychiatrist, said it is very important to follow the international standards of treatment of drug addicts, which is six months or a year of medical treatment and two years of counselling. People ignore this time period and just after weeks of treatment they think that patient is fully recovered.
Punjab AIDS Control Programme, which is a vertical programme working under National AIDS Control Programme, is functioning in Punjab to identify, diagnose and provide treatment to the high risk groups in order to prevent spread of HIV/AIDS among the population. However, the Punjab government entrusted another NGO, namely Nai Zindagi, with the responsibility of rehabilitating and treating one of the key high risk group called Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), who were in the habit of sharing needles, thus becoming the cause for spread of HIV/AIDS among the intravenous drug users.
"Nai Zindagi has its rehabilitation centre in Bara Kahu, Islamabad, where 160 to 170 patients daily report with HIV. They don't have a centre in Lahore but social mobilisers, who take the patients with their family's consent to Islamabad. Nai Zindagi gets the grant of $4 million per year from Global Fund,” said Salman Qureshi, senior Programme Manager Nai Zindagi.
He said, “We deal with only IDU's. An estimated number of IDU is 100,000 approximately who approached us. We registered them and then liaison them with Punjab AIDS Control Programme for further medical treatment. We provide new syringes as following international approach to treat the IDU, so we can prevent HIV in general public. Some of them feel motivated and come to us for their treatment.”
However, the Injecting Drug Users were freely roaming around the streets of Lahore and openly sharing syringes on the footpaths and greenbelts on city’s busy transactions, casting such a negative influence on society, which all speaks volumes of the inefficiency and lack of commitment to its task of rehabilitating the IDUs and stop spread of the this menace.
The Punjab government needs to review its decision to outsource rehabilitation of IDU’s to an NGO, which has miserably failed to tackle the menace of injecting drug users in the provincial metropolis and the state of affairs in other districts of Punjab can be imagined to be even worse.
Punjab Minister for Specialised Healthcare and Medical Education, Khwaja Salman Rafique said the Punjab government is committed to providing healthcare and rehabilitation for drug addicts through various initiatives launched during the past. When asked about the reason for inordinate delay in this project and why it could still not be made operational, he said the delay was not because of the inefficiency of the health department but because of certain construction work by the department of Communications & Work (C&W) and the procurement of certain commodities such as the backup power generator and certain other important items. He said it is expected that these pending elements of the project will be completed by end of January and the Centre will be inaugurated as fully operational capacity in the first week of February.