‘Only 0.5% of drug users get medical care’

Exaggeration of extent of substance abuse counterproductive, warns expert

September 26, 2019 01:36 am | Updated 01:36 am IST - KOCHI

Dr. Atul Ambekar of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, in Kochi on Wednesday.

Dr. Atul Ambekar of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, in Kochi on Wednesday.

Just about 0.5% or one in 180 drug addicts in the country get medical treatment for their condition. This, combined with the social stigma attached to drug addiction, over-emphasis on awareness creation and cutting supplies, and an exaggerated perception of the extent of substance abuse are counterproductive in fighting drug menace, said Atul Ambekar, head of the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Dr. Ambekar was the lead investigator in the early 2019 report on the magnitude of substance abuse in India under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Exaggeration generates wrong perceptions and misguide the youth, Dr. Ambekar said, drawing attention to reports that around 70% of schoolchildren in Kerala were exposed to the threat of drug abuse.

“Such wrong claims spread the idea that non-drug users are a minority, and the notion does not help us fight the menace,” he added. He was speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the Asian Regional Forum against Drug Abuse.

Dr. Ambekar said the substance abuse report was released in early 2019 and formed the basis of the policy to fight drug abuse in the country.

No substantial data

There has been no substantial data in the last more than 70 years, especially at the State-level, on substance abuse. The survey has produced reliable data based on the problem.

Making treatment available is a key factor that needs to spread rapidly in the country, he said. Besides, there is overemphasis on awareness creation and cutting supplies. “If a corner of a house is on fire, first put out the fire and then create awareness about not playing with fire,” he said, explaining his point.

Cutting supplies is not as effective as bringing down demand. If there is no demand there will be less supply, he observed, pointing out that most children tended to say that they learnt to use drugs from their friends.

Dr. Ambekar said tweaking some Excise rules could also help in fighting the problem.

“We should treat more dangerous and addictive substances more rigorously. Opium, which is less addictive, used to be more prevalent among users in a 2004 survey. But the pattern has changed to more widespread use of heroin in a later survey. The latter is more addictive and more profitable for drug sellers,” he observed.

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