For addicts in Chandigarh, free needles programme instrumental in quitting drugs | punjab$chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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For addicts in Chandigarh, free needles programme instrumental in quitting drugs

The needle exchange programme was started by Chandigarh SACS in 2007 to protect youngsters from complications of injection use.

punjab Updated: May 22, 2017 13:23 IST
Tanbir Dhaliwal
State AIDS Control Society
The main focus is to control the spread of HIV among drug addicts.(HT Representative Image)

It all started with a shot of Avil (drug) at the age of 22 and that one ‘kick’ took away 20 years of his life.

From taking opioids and synthetic drugs ten times a day to injecting needles thrice daily, Ranjeet Singh’s life was nothing less than hell.

An auto-rickshaw driver from Chandigarh, his addiction started taking a toll on his health and financial constraints made it difficult for him to cater to his daily cravings. So, he chose to quit.

In 2012, Ranjeet joined a needle exchange programme and enrolled with opioid substitution therapy (OST) under Chandigarh State AIDS Control Society (SACS).

Within three years, he not only quit but is now helping others to overcome addiction. He has joined SACS as an outreach worker and has helped nine other injecting drug users (IDUs) to quit.

HOW THIS PROGRAMME WORKS
  • Needle exchange programme started by Chandigarh SACS in 2007 to protect youngsters from complications of injection use. Over 1,000 IDUs are enrolled in it
  • Peer educators visit ‘hotspots’, interact with other IDUs, collect used syringes and provide free needles. Hotspots are areas where IDUs get together and inject drugs. Chandigarh has 30 such areas
  • Main focus to control spread of HIV among users. As per latest HIV sentinel surveillance report, prevalence among IDUs is 7.2% nationally
  • Part of target interventions (TI) started for high-risk groups and works on harm reduction policy
  • Users are identified in the city and linked with projects. They are motivated to not share syringes and are provided free ones
  • This is followed by counselling to motivate them to quit injections and enrol for oral substitution therapy.

His success story is not a single case in isolation.

Sandeep Mittal, deputy director, Chandigarh SACS, says, “Nearly 56 IDUs have quit after getting enrolled with the needle exchange programme since its inception in 2007. Now, over 1,000 IDUs are enrolled with the programme.”

Divyansh Kumar (26) from Mauli village is another such case.

“As a teenager, I never thought I will become an addict; after all, only ‘bad’ people take drugs. I thought I was immune to such company and wasn’t in any danger of getting hooked,” he says.

But he was proven wrong. At 18, he started smoking cannabis and became an IDU.

“A friend who worked as a peer educator took me to a clinic. I was administered oral medication under supervision. Initially, it was difficult as the withdrawal symptoms troubled me a lot. But it was all worth it,” smiles Divyansh.

He admits shyly that he once took an injection while on treatment, but has not done so since 2016 and is off treatment now.

He is working as a peer educator for the past four years. They visit ‘hotspots’ in Chandigarh, interact with other IDUs, collect used syringes and provide free needles.

Hotspots are those areas where IDUs get together and inject drugs. In Chandigarh alone, there are over 30 such areas.

CHANGING LIVES, NEEDLE BY NEEDLE

The needle exchange programme was started by Chandigarh SACS in 2007 to protect youngsters from complications of injection use.

Its main focus is to control the spread of HIV among them. According to the latest HIV sentinel surveillance report, prevalence of this deadly retrovirus among IDUs is 7.2% nationally, one of the highest among any population group.

“The needle exchange programme is a part of target interventions (TI) started for high-risk groups by SACS. It works on harm reduction policy. So, we identify such people in the city and link them with projects,” says Mittal.

“We motivate them to not share syringes and give them free ones. We also provide cotton swabs and tell them the right way to inject, so they don’t rupture their nerves,” he adds.

Then they provide counselling and gradually motivate them to quit injections and enrol for oral substitution therapy.

Chandigarh SACS is running the project at four places in the city with the help of two NGOs — Sehat and Sosva. Sehat has its centres at Ram Darbar and Manimajra. Sosva operates in Dadumajra and Palsora.

There is one peer educator for every 60 IDUs and one outreach worker for every 200 IDUs.

Balwinder Singh, project manager, Sehat, says, “A total of 631 IDUs are registered with us, of whom 433 come to get free needles and the rest take oral substitution therapy. Since 2007, 33 people have quit and some are working with us.”

He adds, “Different drug users take their own time to quit. It all depends on their intake before they come for treatment.”

Ranjeet credits his new life to Balwinder and his co-workers. “They are changing lives. They have changed mine and I am thankful for that.“