Santosh Kumar*, 38, got hooked to smack (Heroin) after a friend got it for him one night 14 years ago. “It helped me relax, I slept better. At first, I smoked it but switched to needles when I found the high was better when I injected it,” said Kumar, who sold vegetables before his addiction.
When it became difficult to get hold of smack and prices spiked, he moved to a cocktail of prescription medicines readily available at chemist shops. “It was cheaper, the drugs and syringe cost Rs 15 in the 90s, now it costs Rs 95,” he said.
Kumar discovered he was HIV positive six years ago and vowed to give up his addiction. “I thought of my wife and child and went to rehab immediately,” he said.
He hasn’t used drugs since, and now works with Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) as an outreach worker to convince drug addicts to stop injecting.
Watch | A smack addict’s story
Of the 54,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Delhi, more than 18% inject drugs, shows Delhi State AIDS Control Society (DSACS). Of them, 3.36% registered with DSACS were HIV positive.
“Injection drug use is rising in Delhi and Punjab. Delhi has been declared as high-risk for drug use by the National AIDS Control Organisation,” said Mrinalini Darswal, project director, DSACS, which runs two programmes to convince injecting-drug users to exchange used needles and syringes and go for Opioid replacement therapy (OST).
“Apart from the two NACO-funded programmes, we run a 20-bed rehab centre where we give food and shelter to homeless addicts and treat them for ailments,” said Sanjeev Kumar Tiwari, project manager at SPYM, which runs the centre.
“Under the exchange programme, used needles and syringes are exchanged for new ones and users are counselled about safe use and monitored to ensure they do not share syringes,” said Darswal.
OST is a de-addiction treatment where illegal drugs are substituted by medicines to reduce withdrawal symptoms and is available across 10 DSACS-run centres in the city.
“The therapy is available in centres run by partner NGOs, in big hospitals and at Chandni Chowk police station. The police round up addicts but do not know where to take them. Such centres make help accessible to addicts, so we plan to start more such centres in other police stations,” Darswal said.
Tilak Raj, 49, was on OST for three years before recently being moved to a rehab centre to quit completely. “I have lost everything - my family, money and respect- due to addiction. The first few days in rehab were bad, but my withdrawal symptoms were less severe now,” said Raj.
*Names have been changed due to HIV positive status.*