Drug overdose deaths go unnoticed in Kashmir

Suhail Bhat
SRINAGAR, Dec 28: The rising number of drug overdose deaths in Kashmir goes unnoticed since no data is available in any healthcare institution, according to experts, who claim that overdose deaths are frequently neglected or hushed up due to the stigma associated with drug addiction.
Experts have warned that substance use disorders in general, and opioids in particular, are becoming a death trap for young Kashmiris, and have urged the Government to establish a 24-hour drug emergency hospital to reduce deaths due to substance use disorders.
“Deaths due to drug overdose are a reality in Kashmir, but we do not have data in this regard because overdose deaths are often masked due to the social stigma attached to overdose deaths. We need a drug emergency hospital that can work round the clock to treat drug disorders in the Valley”, Dr Muzaffar Khan, Director, Police Drug Addiction Centre, Srinagar, told Excelsior.
According to the experts, illicit substances, particularly opioids such as heroin, are posing a new problem for policymakers. “Majority of the patients who come for rehabilitation abuse heroin. The bulk of the patients who seek treatment at different hospitals has seen colleagues die”, a doctor said.
He said that heroin users have a higher relapse rate, making it difficult for them to quit using the drug. “One dose of heroin is enough to become addicted, and it becomes difficult for the user to live without this drug”, he said, adding that doctors who have dealt with overdose deaths are well aware of the problem, but often pass it off as a suicide or something else to absolve parents of their guilt.
Dr. Yasir H. Rather, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at IMHANS, said that deaths from overdose are underreported and actual data is missing. “We cannot build a policy to deal with this catastrophe without true statistics. We see a lot of patients who have lost one or two friends to drug overdoses or other drug-related issues”, he said.
He said that heroin abuse through injections was one of the major factors contributing to overdose deaths in Kashmir. He said that it has also led to the spread of infections such as hepatitis B, C, and HIV, as well as other health hazards such as damage to internal organs.
He said that while they could not rule out the potential that the spike in suicide and heart attacks was linked to drug misuse, there was no evidence to back up the assertion. “More research is needed in this aspect”, he added.