“Neglected and disowned”

The treatment and rehabilitation facilities are limited across the country

“Neglected and disowned”


illions of people are addicted to harmful drugs in Pakistan and many die on account of those every day. Once somebody is introduced to these drugs, it becomes very difficult for them to quit. Drug addiction is a medical illness characterised by its chronic, progressive and fatal nature. It causes victims to compulsively and repeatedly engage in drug-seeking and, that too, in the face of repeated negative results. The suffering is not limited to them but also extends to their families. Unfortunately, treatment and rehabilitation facilities are limited and there are many challenges in this context.

Dr Sadaqat Ali, a rehabilitation consultant and the project director at Willing Ways Rehabilitation Centre, says that in most cases, the decision to take the drug for the first time is voluntary. Later, when it results in addiction, it severely challenges and hampers the addicts’ ability to resist the craving and the urge for drugs, he adds.

At Willing Ways, he says, the patients are treated with dignity and respect, which is one of the main factors in their success. “We help our patients discover their true selves while aiming at transforming their whole being. This directs them to explore a new life of recovery comprising peace and serenity.

Ali adds that they also help families heal themselves so that they recover from the grief of their loved ones’ addiction and prepare them for the supportive role they need to play for their loved ones’ recovery.

Addiction and alcoholism are diseases described by the uncontrollable urge and use of drugs to the extent that it causes dysfunction in people’s lives. Addicts often use drugs for two major reasons: stress and boredom. While maintaining recovery, it is important to learn the necessary skills to avoid relapse. Supportive counselling programmes include stress management and anger management. When patients learn the necessary skills to control anger and overcome their stress, their chances of relapse diminish substantially.

Syed Zulfiqar Hussain, a consultant at the Anti Drugs/ Narcotics Campaign and a director at Drug Advisory Training Hub (DATH), says they are working on drug demand reduction, coordinating with several educational institutions, holding counselling sessions with drug addicts and their families, referring drug addicts for treatment programmes free of cost and building coordination with various government departments.

Hussain says the main theme of their drug-free campus programme is to stop smoking and the use of illicit drugs in educational institutions and hostels. “We have signed MoUs with 18 institutions regarding the Smoke and Drug Free Campuses programme and have issued certificate for two years according to international standards of prevention,” he adds.

He shares that as per a national survey in 2013, the number of beds for drug addicts was 1,990. Meanwhile, the number of drug addicts in the country is estimated at around 10 million. He says private treatment centres are very expensive. A large number of drug addicts need urgent treatment facilities but hospital facilities are limited. These include drug addicts who use drugs on streets and in public parks.

According to a report by the Drug Advisory Training Hub (DATH) and the Youth Council for Anti Narcotics (YOCFAN), there are Class A and Class B drugs. Class A drugs/ narcotics are defined as hard drugs that shorten the lifespan of the user, whereas Class B drugs/ narcotics are defined as harmful soft drugs that impair quality of life.

Class A drugs/ narcotics include heroin, cocaine/ crack, hash, LSD tablets, crystal meth/ ice and injections. Class B drugs/ narcotics include opium, cannabis, gutka, paan, cigarette/ e-cigarette, naswaar, sedative tablets/ syrups, painkillers and various industrial chemicals. The report says that every month between May and August 2022, 50-55 bodies of drug users who were not identified and who were homeless had been found in Lahore. Drug overdose, lack of food and water, and unsanitary conditions are some of the major contributing factors to the high fatality rate, the report adds.

Some other findings of the report include:

1. Hospitals’ and homes’ data about deaths of drug addicts are not available.

2. Eighty percent of the essential treatment facilities are not available in government hospitals.

3. The private sector is providing treatment facilities but those are expensive.

4. Twenty thousand patients urgently need treatment facilities in Lahore.

5. Lack of coordination between various departments is a big issue.

6. Heads of many educational institutions were not serious about students’ health profiling and related matters.

7. The divorce rate was 62 percent and khula’ rate 38 percent in cases of drug addiction resulting in family breakdown, unemployment etc.

8. A major cause of drug addiction among the youth was isolation/ disputes in the family.

Dr Izhar ul Haq, the Akhuwat director, points out that treatment facilities in the country are not up to the mark and that international protocols are not followed consistently. Besides, he says, the staff of some hospitals is not properly trained. Haq adds that the patients are given medicines to take care of bodily changes caused by withdrawal from drugs but counselling is even more important.

He says a major challenge is the easy availability of drugs. This is the reason most rehabilitation centres keep patients indoors for the duration of the treatment. Supply of drugs to them has to be cut off. He says a challenge related to drug addicts’ treatment is a high relapse rate, meaning that they are likely to resume drug use after treatment.

Haq says the family, the society and the community must consider it their responsibility to get drug addicts treated. For now, most of them end up being neglected and disowned.

The writer is a staff reporter. He can be reached at shahzada.irfan@gmail.com

“Neglected and disowned”