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Dhaka Tribune

Female drug abusers most vulnerable among addicted population

Update : 01 Apr 2018, 10:54 PM
Tahmina Akter (not her real name), a student at Dhaka University, never wanted to leave the home of her family. To that end she even refused proposals of marriage. She could not bear the thought of giving up her father’s company by getting married, but now she does. The change came when Tahmina learned of her father’s extramarital relations with another woman, with whom he also has another daughter. Tahmina’s situation further worsened when she left home and started living with friends, who got her into using drugs to ease the shock of finding out about her father’s second family. Tahmina eventually became addicted to yaba. Six years after she left home, her parents brought her back, and Tahmina recently recovered from her addiction. She is 34 years old and, while she is at present fully rehabilitated, she still has fears of relapsing because of traumatic memories. “I did not get married because I had lost faith in my father. I did not even get a job,” Tahmina said, adding that her return to a normal life began when she started living with her family again. She is still not sure if she could get her strength back completely. Unlike Tahmina, not every woman addicted to drugs gets a second chance with their families or rehabilitation. Parvin Runa, 50, died while trying to flee from a drug rehabilitation centre – Nabajagoron Madakasakti Nibaron Kendra – at Uttara on March 5. Her relative, Sajeda Akhter, who came to receive her body, told the Dhaka Tribune that her son admitted Parvin to the  centre suspecting Parvin was addicted to drugs. Parvin later said that she did not like the way she was treated at the center. However, Sub-Inspector of Uttara West police station Aminul Kabir said according to her drug treatment record in the centre Parvin did have addiction issues. There are hundreds of women around the country in similar situations as Tahmina and Parvin, addicted to drugs and with little or no chance at rehabilitation.
Also Read- Stricter narcotics control law on the cards
Experts and activists say the country is witnessing a rise in female drug abuse, which could also pose other health hazards. Getting proper treatment is also a big factor, as inadequate procedures caused delays in the rehabilitation process. Women addicted to drugs are among the most vulnerable portion of the population. To date there is no system in place to track information on drug addicted women. According to anti-narcotics organisation, Madok Drobbo O Nesha Sangstha (Manas - 2016), Bangladesh has about 1.1m female drug abusers, covering 16% of the entire addicted population. This figure stood at only 5% just five years ago, when the total number was around 5.5 million, indicating that a rise of 11 percentage points took place in that period. Activists said that the largest number of women suffering from drug addiction are from educational institutions, with many from the tertiary level. Several women and girls were also found frequenting sheesha lounges. Over the last few years sheesha has become a gateway to yaba. Manas said among the entire population of female drugs addicts, 32% are cigarette smokers, while almost 28% are alcoholic, 33% take sleeping pills, 26% marijuana, 5% heroine and another 5% go for drugs through injection. The number of female drug abusers in Dhaka is currently about 100,000, says the organisation. Meanwhile, data collected from the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), released in June last year, also shows that women make up 16% of the total number of drug addicted people in Bangladesh. What is even alarming is the age of the female drug addicts, being between 15 and 35, with 56% addicted to yaba. Peer pressure is a major factor behind female drug addiction, said Manas and DAH. Umme Jannat, programme officer of Addiction Management and Integrated Care (AMIC) at DAM, said: “The number of females consuming yaba is rising in society, whereas addiction to heroine is plummeting.” Ahsania Mission runs a separate drug rehabilitation centre for girls only in Mohammadpur, Dhaka where 28 patients are currently admitted. “Addicts being treated at our rehabilitation centre say they were first introduced to drugs through their family and friends, in absence of good parenting,” she added. At least 43% of the teenage female addicts are highly vulnerable, the DAM official said. Yaba consumption, she said, was turning into a common trend among many young women, as they believe it helps them shed weight and maintain a slim body. After talking to several female addicts, the Dhaka Tribune came to know that abusing drugs was a medium for them to ease or even forget the pain they endure. A recent study, conducted at different schools and colleges by Manas, reveals that nearly 10% of users are both young and adult females, 3% being housewives; 15% were girls aged 15. The survey studied a sample group of 95 female drug users who have come to a centre for treatment and rehabilitation, run by DAM. The results found that 49% of the addicts abused drugs due to family unrest while 34% were influenced by their friends. The remaining number was addicted due to recreational or other reasons. The survey also found that 34% of the users are currently receiving psychiatric treatment, with about 84% that want to escape family dysfunction.

Expert’s take on the issue:

Dr Arup Ratan Choudhury, president and founder of Manas, said it was high time Bangladesh addressed the crisis as a country with the number of drug addicts mounting. “Five years ago, very few women were abusing drugs. But now, the number increases every day. Currently, there are 7 million addicts in this country, and I do fear that it will rise quickly if necessary initiatives are not taken into consideration,” he suggested. Recounting that Bangladesh had merely 1 million drug abusers in the 90s, he said: “Despite the fact of lakhs of people consuming narcotics then, just 5,000 students were drug addicts.” “What was also alarming was that we found women are frequenting sheesha lounges. Not only are they smoking, but they are also becoming addicted to yaba,” said the campaigner. Psychiatrist and professor of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Tajul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that continuous usage of drugs, especially yaba, could provide short time relief, but it has long term problems as well. It puts pressure on the nervous system of the addicted and could potentially cause extensive psychological damage. Pregnant women are even more at risk. According to Substance Use in Women: Current Status and Future Directions by Rakesh Lal, Koushik Sinha Deb, and Swati Kedia, women tend to develop alcohol-related liver disease in comparatively shorter duration and from lesser amount of alcohol consumption than men. The study said more women die from cirrhosis than men. Heavy alcohol consumption may also be associated with increased risk of menstrual disturbances, infertility and breast cancer. In women, alcohol intake is also found to be associated with higher risk for hypertension, overall cardiovascular diseases and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Similar findings have been reported in India where women drug users were found to develop more severe strain of pneumonia, rupture of lungs and tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis and HIV, the study added. NIMH Professor Tajul Islam said the rehabilitation centres of the country should come under strict surveillance and treatment for women should gain more attention. Ashique Selim, a specialised addiction psychiatrist of the country said the main problem is drugs-related issues are seen as legal problems instead of public health concerns. “We have received a number of female drug addicted patients from several rehabilitation centres who were not treated properly and became psychological patients,” he added. Echoing Prof Tajul Islam, Selim said the rehabilitation procedure should be more transparent as detention is itself a breaching of rights to freedom of movement as well. Dr Arup Ratan Choudhury said: “We need to immediately bust the sources of drugs. In order to make this happen, the government should form a high-powered drug control cell.” The government also needs to constitute a task force with a strong standing committee that will exclusively deal with drug addiction, he further said. Jamal Uddin Ahmed, director general of Department of Narcotics Control said proper surveillance in these rehabilitation centres would be ensured through the upcoming Drug Prevention Act of 2018.
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