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Addict enrolment jumped from 2.8L to 6L after virus outbreak: Punjab minister

Hindustan Times/Dakha | By Mohit Khanna, Dakha
UPDATED ON DEC 16, 2020 01:00 AM IST

The coronavirus pandemic, which has redefined the new normal across the world, is serendipitously responsible for bolstering drug addicts’ enrolment at outpatient opioid assisted treatment (OOAT) clinics so much so that the Punjab government has formulated a policy to open more psychiatric nursing homes and de-addiction centres across the state to tackle the patient influx.

Health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, who was attending a World AIDS Day on the outskirts of the city in Dakha, said, “Before the Covid outbreak, enrolment at different centres across the state was 2.87 lakh, which has increased to 6 lakh.”

Sidhu said, “In the wake of the increased patient enrolment, psychiatrists have been allowed to run pharmacies from clinics to facilitate counselling and treatment. A small set-up is enough to run a centre. It could be a small clinic with an attached room with beds.”

To ensure detoxification drugs are not misused, private doctors have been asked to maintain a daily record of stock, bills and invoices. Nearly, 5.43 lakh drug abuse prevention officers (DAPOs) have already been registered, of which 88,710 are officials and 4,54,332 are private citizens, the minister added.

Special secretary health and family welfare-cum-project director Punjab State AIDS Control Society (PSACS) Amit Kumar said that increasing incidence of drug abuse and drug-related HIV in Punjab was a matter of great concern. “The problem is grave as a large number of people are getting into the habit of drug use, particularly injectable pharmaceutical drugs,” he said.

“It has been observed that the drug intake pattern has changed over the last four to five years. Drug users are shifting from oral to injecting mode that has resulted in increasing incidences drug-related HIV in the state,” he said.

He said, “At present 35 opioid-substitution therapy (OST) centres are functional in 18 districts of the state. It has helped injecting drug users overcome their habit.”

Ludhiana civil surgeon Dr Rajesh Kumar Bagga said parent-to-child transmission was preventable through prompt HIV testing and anti-retroviral treatment.

On why there was increased enrolment after the outbreak, Bagga said, “ Enrolment surged at opioid substitution therapy (OST) centres amid the pandemic as the lockdown had led to serious paucity of drugs.”

“Drug substitute medicines were only available at the government institutions. The number of patients seeking help with private psychiatrists and government institutions kept increasing after lockdown was lifted, which is a healthy trend,” said Dr Bagga.

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