On the international day against drug abuse
and illicit trafficking, drug users gathered outside Shastri Bhavan (New Delhi,
India), to reject "sham" programmes for addiction and demand meaningful
involvement in policies.
Protesting torture and cruelty in de-addiction
centres, drug users called upon the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment,
to "clean up" drug treatment and introduce evidence based services in
consultation with persons who use drugs.
In his message on June 26th last year, the
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had called on Member States to
ensure access to health and social services for people struggling with
addiction and that no one is stigmatized or discriminated against because of
their dependence on drugs. This message seems to have been forgotten. We are
here to remind various agencies of their responsibility towards persons who are
dependent on drugs" said R.K Raju, President of the Drug User Forum and
convenor of the protest.
According to the World Health Organisation
(WHO), drug dependence is a chronic medical condition that requires
multi-disciplinary and comprehensive services. Drug treatment in India, is
however, provided by some agencies utilizing unproven, outmoded and
"Opioid dependent patients must have the
benefit of Methadone and Buprenorphine, medicines that are on WHO's list of
essential drugs. It is time to promote and ensure wider access to drug
substitution therapy, which reduces HIV and other blood borne infections
related to injecting, lessens illicit drug use and improves health" recommends
Dr. M. Suresh Kumar, a Chennai based psychiatrist who has been treating drug
dependence for over twenty years. Presently, services for drug dependence are
- Government hospitals that provide inpatient and outpatient
care, mostly detoxification. Barring premier centres like the National
Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of AIIMS in New Delhi, most of the
government clinics do not offer opiate substitution.
- NGOs, who receive grants from the Ministry of Social Justice
and Empowerment to run de-addiction centres that house addicts for 15 to
20 days. NGOs impart awareness and counseling but do not always follow
clinical methods to treat addiction.
- Private centres that operate without registration or government
approval. Such centres charge anything between Rs 3,000 to 7,000, from
addicts' or their families. There is no professional assistance; instead
inmates are 'punished' for addiction. No government department monitors
these clinics, which violate norms with impunity.
Of the above, the third category is the
most dangerous. Recollecting horrific memories of his stay at a private
de-addiction centre in Delhi, Anil said -"Forty of us were locked up in a dingy
basement. One boy fell sick with cholera because of the dirty water we were
made to drink. The owner allowed us to eat only 3 thin rotis a day, if some one
asked for more, he was tied up and thrashed. Our heads were shaved off. We were
treated like animals...worse than animals..."
"Many drug users have died in these
centres, because of physical torture and/or lack of timely medical attention"
complained Tripti Tandon of the Lawyers Collective, an NGO that advocates for
rights of people dependent on drugs. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances Act tasks the government with setting up treatment facilities, but
this responsibility has largely been ignored. "Schemes of the Ministry of
Social Justice and Empowerment are not binding on private centres. There is an
urgent need to regulate treatment and protect the health and safety of drug
users" urged Tandon.
Another grouse was the non-involvement of
drug users in policies that affect them. "Community participation is essential
for widening the reach of programmes. The Ministry has ignored us far too long.
This must change." - demanded Raju, flagging the banner of nothing about us,
without us. Earlier in the day, more than 40 international groups and experts
worldwide issued a call to action that presses governments to adopt a humane
approach to drug policy and enact measures based on scientific and medical
Contributed by: Bobby Ramakant