For nearly 200,000 injectible drug users (IDUs) in India, heroin is no more a favourite substance. They make a heady cocktail out of pharmaceutical preparations, especially painkillers, available over the counter for their new high, experts said here Monday.
Many such addicts in India are into preparations like buprenorphine, pentazocine, dextro-propoxyphene - most of them are painkillers, said experts from UNAIDS, a UN initiative on HIV and AIDS, and other organisations.
"India and its neighbours are witnessing a gradual growth in the number of injectible drug users, which is in many ways a negative development. What is more intriguing is that these drugs are easily available both in the legal and illegal market," said Swarup Sarkar, a senior UNAIDS official, addressing a conference here on intravenous drug users and AIDS.
"The situation is alarming in northeastern states but the problem has now entered other states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir," said the official.
Among the South Asian nations, India is home to nearly 200,000 IDUs, Bangladesh to 25,000, Pakistan to 60,000 and Nepal to 20,000. The number of such addicts is less than 1,000 in Sri Lanka.
M. Suresh Kumar, senior researcher at the Centre for Harm Reduction in Melbourne, Australia, said these pharma products were less expensive as compared to heroin and easily available in the grey market.
"Addicts make a cocktail of these drugs for a better high. What is painful is that in northeastern states the interface between IDUs and sex workers is increasing, leading to a higher chance of getting infected with HIV," Kumar told IANS.
D.C.S. Reddy, national professional officer of WHO, said the UN bodies and the central government should work together to tackle the problem.
"Effort must be made to convert the injectors into taking oral pills and awareness must be heightened through peer education. The supply of disposable needles and syringes should also be enhanced further so that the spread of HIV can be controlled," Reddy said.