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Rampant drug abuse goes unchecked in Delhi

Sharan, the only government run drug de-addiction centre in Jehangirpuri has been facing obstacles as the staff has not been paid salaries for 8 months.

ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 3rd Jan 2015

An injecting drug user is injected with heroin by his companion. This is a representative picture. REUTERS

Addiction to hard drugs is rife in Jehangirpuri and neighbouring areas in Delhi even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of making the country free of drug use.

A The Sunday Guardian investigation has found that hard drugs are being sold and bought freely in Jehangirpuri, a working class locality in East Delhi. The use of such drugs extends to surrounding areas like Mongolpuri, Yamuna Bazar, Azadpur, Adarsh Nagar and Sadar Bazar. These colonies are largely inhabited by labourers who work at the wholesale markets in Azadpur and Sadar Bazar, many of whom take to the use of such drugs.

Close to the Mutiny Memorial, near the Adarsh Nagar Metro station is the Mahindra Park colony in Jehangirpuri whose lanes have a number of medicine shops where such proscribed drugs can be bought over the counter, without any prescription.

Next to the park in Mahindra Park locality, this correspondent met Sultan Khan (name changed), a rag-picker. Khan, 55, said that he was a long-term drug-user. He said that he had been taking drugs since adolescence and injecting chemicals for almost the same time. He also said that he had attempted to quit by admitting himself into rehabilitation centres but never succeeded.

Accompanied by this correspondent, he went to buy his fix, which is available for Rs 120. Khan complained that it used to be Rs 40 a few years ago. At the first shop, he was told that it was not available. "It is because he knew I was with you. He must have got suspicious. I buy from him often," Khan said, berating this correspondent for being dressed in relatively cleaner clothes. "Wear dirty clothes next time. Everyone must be thinking you are a cop," he said.

However, at the next shop, he bought the kit without a hitch. The kit contained a syringe, a needle and the drug buprenorphine in a liquid form, an opiate based substance. "It was because you did not accompany me till there," he said, back in the lane next to the park, where he had asked this correspondent to stand as he purchased his fix.

Walking around the park, whose corners were littered with empty packets from which syringes and needles had been extracted, he walked this correspondent across the Metro flyover to the other side of the road. Sitting behind construction material, semi-hidden from the oncoming traffic, he took the contents of the kit out and proceeded to inject himself. Although a long-term user, he was able to find a vein in his left forearm, and shoot the liquid in. He made the liquid concoction more potent by mixing in another tablet that he was carrying from before, an anti-drug addiction tablet that contains the same substance. "I got this tablet from Sharan," he said. Sharan is a drug-de-addiction centre in Jehangirpuri, the only government run shelter that works with the addicts of the area.

Alokji said that while addicts did not die of drug use as much as if they injected safely, a weakened immune system meant that they were more likely to die due to ailments like tuberculosis and diarrhoea.

Afterwards, becoming more voluble — bursting into tears frequently — he said that he had moved to Mumbai from Delhi at the age of 16. He worked as a waiter at a restaurant in Mumbai. However, he later fell out with the proprietor over salary issues and beat him up for revenge. After the incident, he took to petty crimes. He claimed that he had been asked to leave the city by the Mumbai police, who filed charges under the Goonda Act against him. "Mujhe tadipaar kar diya," he said. He added that his family, his wife and a daughter, still lived there. "My daughter got married last year in December but I could not go," he said.

He came back to Delhi ten years ago. In between, he checked himself into rehabilitation centres, where he worked too as a counsellor sometimes, but it did not work out for him so he returned to the life of rag-picking and drug addiction.

Another drug user and a rag picker who declined to be named gave the reason for injecting the deadly liquid. Sitting crouched near the park, with a recently used needle still in his fingers, he said, "After doing this work all day, all the joints become completely jammed. When you inject, they get lubricated and you are able to relax." He said that he used to inhale smack from the aluminium foil earlier but it became very expensive since the past one year.

He said that he had also tried to quit. "I requested a policeman to put me in jail so that I could leave the habit. I stayed clean for two months and eight days. I suffered terrible withdrawal pangs. Cough and cold, fever, lack of bowel movements and abdomen cramps. Finally, I just could not take it anymore. I felt as if my head would burst. I asked another prisoner to help me get some drugs. Only then, it got better," he said.

At Sharan, a small three-room centre near the Mangal Bazar road in Jehangirpuri, Alokji (who goes by one name), the in-charge, said that their focus was on containing the spread of HIV in the area, which was aggravated due to unsafe use of needles and syringes. "We give them a pill, which is taken orally, so the risk of contracting HIV is not there. The drug is also given in a way that its dosage is gradually reduced, helping contain the addiction," Alokji said.

He said that the centre also provided counselling, along with the de-addiction programme. "We are able to help around 500 to 700 patients a month. While some of them come on their own, others are brought here by our outreach workers," he added.

Alokji said that he was a former drug-addict himself, who injected drugs for 24 years. He was able to wean himself off the drugs only after many attempts. Originally from Lucknow, he came to Delhi in his youth after it became impossible to sustain his habit there as everyone in the family and neighbourhood came to know of it. "I got a good job after I came here but I lost everything due to my addiction. I lived on the streets for a few years before I decided to kick the habit," he said.

He said that the addiction was wide-spread in Jehangirpuri and surrounding areas, with mostly labourers taking to it.

Deepak Kumar, who works as an ORW (outreach worker) at Sharan, said that he used to be a loader of goods at Azadpur Mandi when he first started taking drugs: "First, it was just charas. Later, I smoked smack filled in a cigarette for the first time. It used to come very cheap. I became hooked."

Soon, he started to inject too and took to the habit full-time, wreaking havoc on his health and family life before learning about Sharan. "I still take my dosage but it is much less," he added.

However, his problems are far from solved. Sharan has not been provided with funds due with the Delhi government for the last eight months, which means salaries of Kumar and the other staff have not been paid, making it difficult to continue operation.

"We received one instalment some time back but it was hardly enough," Alokji said. He also said that there was no government run rehabilitation centre in the area which provided food and lodging for recovering addicts. "However, some are being run privately but they charge a substantial amount," he added.

Alokji said that while addicts did not die of drug use as much as if they injected safely, a weakened immune system meant that they were more likely to die due to ailments like tuberculosis and diarrhoea.

"We tell them not to inject in the neck and not to share the shooting gear. On a whole, alcohol is more dangerous than these drugs. But many of them live on the streets and die due to cold too, apart from other diseases," he said.

However, Sultan Khan and other users said that sharing the shooting gear and using it over and over again became necessary due to the high costs involved.

Sahara used to run a de-addiction centre in Jehangirpuri earlier, but it closed down due to lack of funds. Asked about the role of the police, those this newspaper spoke to alleged that the practice was known to them but they had not done enough to curb it. However, the allegation could not be independently verified.

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