Kicking the habit

A female-led rehabilitation centre in Charsadda is helping those suffering from addiction with turning their lives around

Kicking the habit


An Albanian party song “te ka lalishpirt”, which is popular amongst the Pashtun community, can be heard from the entrance of the building. Wajid Khan, a young boy battling with drug addiction, dances clumsily in a muddy yard. A group of young people suffering from the same affliction applaud him while sitting close by.

A few youngsters, who have their own struggles with drug addiction, play cricket in an open field. These young people are charged and full of energy. Some of the batsmen play exquisite strokes; some of the bowlers perform like professional athletes.

These are the scenes from Rokhana Saba, a drug rehabilitation centre at MardanRoad, Charsadda, established by Saba Gul, 22, a recent graduate in psychology fromShaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Peshawar. Covering her face with a blue mask, she monitors the activity around her. She says, “A majority of these youngsters were admitted here a little over a month ago. They could barely walk straight during their first week here. Now they are able to enjoy life again and have a lot more energy.”

Rather than seeking other employment after graduation, Saba chose to establish a rehabilitation centre. She cites renowned social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi as her inspiration. Before setting up her own centre, she had worked in other institutions where she learned to provide psychological support to those suffering from addiction.

“People suffering from addiction were treated poorly at these centres.They often faced violence at the hands of the staff meant to helpthem. I wanted toestablish a centre where I could provide a safe and humane environment for such patients,” says Saba, currently the only female leader of a drug rehabilitation centre in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Rokhana Saba, is vastly different from other centres. A doctor comes in twice a week to examine the patients and writes prescriptions. In case of an emergency, a patient is shifted to the district headquarters hospital.

The centre provides food, shelter, medication, therapy and a safe environment for people suffering from addiction. Before admission, patients are screened for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV/AIDS. Mandatory drug tests are also conducted, after which a contract is signed with the patient or their guardian.“Although addiction is an ongoing battle, three months of regular physical activity, psychological treatment and proper diet can do wonders for most patients,” says Saba.

Kicking the habit

“People suffering from addiction were treated poorly in these centres and often faced violence at the hands of staff meant to helpthem. I wanted toestablish a centre where I could provide a safe and humane environment for such patients.

A mufti starts off the patients’ day with a two-hour sermon in line with Islamic teachings as a way to provide hope and guidance. The centre provides a friendly environment for those suffering from drug addiction.Most of the patients are in the 16-25 age bracket.

A badminton court and cricket facilities have been established to keep them motivated and occupied.

Apart from the psychological support through counselling sessions, a screen has been installed for patients to watch movies. “Today, we screened Beautiful Boy, a Hollywoodmovie in which a teenager with good grades and extraordinary talentbecomes addicted to meth, which leads him down a destructive path. His father tries his best to save him. They get inspiration from such movies and we try to motivate them to quitdrugs,” says Dawood Shah, a manager at the centre.

“Running a rehab centrein the area is a challenging task as the society is mostly male dominated. However, nothing is impossible and one needs to be strong and sometimes act likea man to make a difference,” says Saba.

She says that methamphetamine use is on the rise amongst youngsters in the form of ‘crystal’. It is a locally produced substance that is readily available in the tribal districts.

According to Saba, the number of women suffering from drug addiction is rising at an alarming rate in KP. “Due to social stigma and unsafe environments, their families are hesitant to seek help. This is why we are planning to establishing acentre exclusively for women,” she tells The News on Sunday.

Based on open source data published by the KP Social Welfare Department, there are 11 government operated rehabilitationcentresin KP and 17 recently registered private rehabilitation centres in Charsadda.

Saba says that due to the increasing rate of addiction in KP, rehabilitation centres have become an attractive business opportunity. They charge at least Rs 20,000 per month per patient. Speaking about these centres, she says, “Unfortunately, most private rehabilitation centreslack proper facilities and some of their psychologists are not trained to treat addiction. It is seen as an easy way to make money. People suffering from addiction are often judged harshly and mistreated by those around them.This leads to perpetual stress, making it harder for them to seek help. Empathy is an important tool in the treatment of addiction. Only an expert can provide the appropriate treatment and psychotherapy to help these people turn their lives around.”

The author is a multimedia    journalist. He tweets   @daudpasaney

Kicking the habit