Tihar addicts to get oral pills to overcome drug dependence

June 24th, 2008 - 4:58 pm ICT by IANS  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) Hundreds of drug addicts in Tihar Jail will soon get ‘kick-inducing’ pharmaceutical tablets from doctors to overcome their drug dependence as part of a reformation programme being initiated by a UN agency. In a first of its kind initiative in India, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Tihar Jail, one of the largest prisons in south Asia, will start oral substitution treatment (OST) clinics to tackle the rampant drug abuse problem among its inmates.

“The initial groundwork has started long ago and the clinic will be operational in a month or two inside Tihar,” UNODC prison expert Jayadev Sarangi said.

“Apart from Tihar administration, we have partnered with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to set up the clinic. Medical professionals with due guidance from senior AIIMS professors will administer two pharmaceutical drugs to prisoners,” Sarangi told IANS in an interview.

He said Tihar is the only prison to cooperate UNODC and its administration accepted that the drug abuse is a problem. The prison has over 13,000 inmates.

“Tihar has a long history of reformation and their officials are open to new ideas.”

Sarangi, a former joint secretary of Delhi government, said of the total Tihar population, nearly eight to 10 percent are hooked to narcotics like heroin. Of the drug addicts, some of them are injectible drug users (IDUs). “They get drugs from different sources including from visiting relatives.”

“We (UNODC and AIIMS) have decided that these drug addicts will be given buprenorphine and methadone, two pharmaceutical drugs. Though both these drugs will give them a kick, they will help reduce drug dependence,” he explained.

R. Gunushekar, an HIV/AIDS prevention expert with UNODC said drug abuse, and sharing of needle and syringe by IDUs heightens the chance of the disease. “Through this centre, we would try to reduce the HIV/AIDS risk among the prison population.”

He said less dependence on drugs will minimize the HIV/AIDS concern and would also help in crime reduction.

“Both the pharmaceutical drugs will be put below the tongue and the prisoner will take it in front of a medical professional. Initially, the prisoners who have been convicted will be the targets for oral substitution treatment,”

“We want to make Tihar a successful model and spread the message to other jails that they should wake up to the drug abuse menace and work for its reduction,” Gunushekar said.

Sarangi said they are now training peer educators and NGO activists who will finally counsel these inmates not to take narcotics. “Initially, we will start one clinic at Tihar and, depending on the result, the number may be increased.”

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