Stigma attached to drug use is common; so is confining drugs users in places like jails, thinking it might solve the problem. Drug addiction is very often misunderstood and in trying to address the problem, it ends up victimizing the user. However, this does not deter a group of recovering drug users to fight it out the societal misconception and help other fellows like them get out of drugs.
A certain John from Mokokchung who started drugs in 2000 and soon got addicted to it, had hopelessly tried a number of times to give up drug. Drugs, frustration and a sinking feeling occupied his waking hours for nearly 10 years until finally last year when he succeeded and resolved to help others like him get freed from drug addiction.
“We (drug users) are associated with AIDS, people think putting us (drug users) in jails will solve the problem”, said John who was once arrested and jailed for three months in 2006. Second time offenders were imprisoned with their hands and legs fastened with chains during those days.
According to the year 2010 estimation provided by the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), the figure of injecting drug users (IDU) in the state showed as 27,774. It was feared that a number of oral drug users may switch to the injecting mode of drug use in the near future.
John’s decision to help people like him and work for the community of drug users came during his stay in Kripa Foundation, Kohima, and Care Counselling Centre, Mokokchung, rehabilitation centres where he stayed in 2003 and 2010 respectively. He also served as a peer educator in Care Counselling Centre. During those days, he had experienced the pangs of people wanting to get out of drugs but remain trapped due to lack of appropriate intervention and care. Given a chance, most drug users want to give it up but drug users are grossly misunderstood.
“Why should anyone continue to do something which destroys him physically, mentally, his family everything”, said Khekiho who was into drug use for 19 years and became clean after he underwent Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) in 2010, at Bethesda, Dimapur.
According to Dr. Collins Clinical Coordinator, Project ORCHID, Nagaland, drug use is “an illness and needs clinical and psycho-social intervention.” He says that an understanding of the issue, cooperation and support from family is very important in helping a person to give up his drug use habit”,
In a number of cases parents are ill informed and frustrated with the illness that is inflicting thousands of youths in Nagaland and other states.
Khekiho and John are among a handful of people who have been able to leave drugs and have decided to help other drug users in doing so. Today both of them along with eight others are members of a working group formed under an initiative called 365 x 6. The initiative which was launched in six states in India in 2010 is working towards collectivization of people with vulnerabilities like drug users, sex workers and man having sex with man, HIV prevention, building capacities of the community to voice their concerns and sustain the process. The 365 x 6 is a six years initiative (365 connotes the days in a year and 6 connotes the six years).
When members of the 365 x 6 Working Group met in Dimapur this month to review their activities and plan for the coming month, they saw an urgent need to mobilize drug users so that various issues concerning them like service access, HIV, rights violation etc were addressed. A number of drug users are either not aware of existing services and government welfare schemes meant for them, denied access or are ill equipped to access these benefits.
Abino Khate, the person behind this process of collectivization said that more than drug use and its associated harms like HIV and AIDS, there was a need for addressing ‘life issues’ of the community. Coordinating the 365 x 6 initiative in Nagaland, she is tasked with facilitating drug users to identify issues concerning them and building their capacities to help them able to seek solutions.
Based on specific needs of the communities and mechanisms that they have come up with to redress it, 365 x 6 has adopted different strategies in different states. Supported by the Avahan India AIDS Initiative, 365 x 6 is facilitating collectivization of vulnerable communities in Nagaland, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
In Nagaland, 10 members of the community representing an equal number of districts in the state have volunteered to ‘connect’. Henyei Phom, president of the 43-member Longleng Users Network and a member of the Working Group has strategized formation of a unit in all eleven wards in the district. These units will provide the much needed space to share and help others get out of drugs. “The last time Longleng has had a detox camp was in 2005,” Henyei recalled.
Khekiho, president of Redeemer Alliance Network (RAN), a 58-member network of recovering drug users, who has volunteered to work for the community in Dimapur has elicited response from the Eastern Bible College (EBC), Dimapur. The Chaplain has promised cooperation and encouraged him and his colleagues to help the community. “It’s the will of the God for all of us to work for the oppressed,” Khekiho recalled the Chaplain as saying. Khekiho along with 11 volunteers representing various colonies in Dimapur plans to mobilise drug users to take the process forward.