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December 6, 2018

Helping addicts

Editorial

December 6, 2018

According to a 2018 report by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, Pakistan, with 7.6 million drug addicts – 800,000 addicted to heroin – is among the most drug-affected countries in the world. The Sindh Health Department has said that there is not a single centre for drug dependency treatment or rehabilitation in the province. Sindh, like the rest of the country, has a high rate of addiction. The issue was taken up by the Supreme Court in a suo-motu case which has sought details from all provinces on drug rehabilitation centres in the public sector.

Apart from hardcore addicts, using heroin, opium and other substances, there is also a large number who use over-the-counter medication without prescription or alcohol. The president of the Pakistan Psychiatric Society, Professor Iqbal Afridi, has also noted at recent a seminar in Karachi that the rehabilitation of drug addicts in Sindh is linked to the lack of psychiatric care available to them or others in need. For too many years has Pakistan essentially ignored its growing drug addiction issue, with 40,000 new addicts added to the population each year. There is also a lack of attention to psychiatry in the country, despite figures which suggest that 34 percent of the population is depressed. Depression is one of the factors that contributes to addiction.

The need for more specialised help for patients of mental illness and drug addiction is required not only in Sindh but in all four provinces of the country. In some major cities, centres run privately are fleecing desperate families of addicts by extorting large sums of money while promising a cure. Drug addiction is a problem which requires not only psychiatric support but also specialised help over a long period of time. The fact that Pakistan has the biggest drug problem in South Asia should be good reason to establish centres in the public sector. This has not happened so far. There is also a lack of awareness about drugs, particularly over-the-counter substances and their potential risks. Reports have surfaced in the press of the increasing use of these. What we need is more psychiatrists in the country to assist in the process of setting up drug treatment centres in the public sector across the country.

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