More than a decade ago, Sally Finn, who runs the Melbourne Crisis Center, reached out to families grieving a loved one lost to substance overdose. What started as a humble tradition is now observed as the International Overdose Awareness Day. Years later, most Indians are still unaware of this day and sadly, each year there is a steady rise in the number of substance overdoses. The use of opioids has become common in India. Opioids are a class of opiates that can be found in several drugs such as heroin, codeine, morphine and hydrocodone. In India, these are also commonly found in Ayurvedic medication and painkillers. Recent government studies have concluded that more than 860,000 men, in the state of Punjab alone, take some form of drugs. The most commonly misused opioids in India are morphine and bukki.
What Causes Opioid Addiction?
Opioids release artificial endorphins in the brain which produce warm and happy feelings in the user in the early stages. However, over time, opioids trick the brain into producing these endorphins naturally. By this time, the user can only experience positive feelings by using the substance. When the user is off the drug, they feel sick and depressed. Now, taking the opioids is no longer about experiencing positive feelings, it is about avoiding the negative ones. A person becomes addicted to opioids once this switch occurs.
Where Does India Stand In The Global Opioid Addiction Crisis?
The UNODC report estimated that 0.7% of India’s population are opiate users. Although the country does not perceive this as a concern, assistant professor at the AIIMS NDDTC, Dr Ravindra Rao sees this as a looming threat. India has one of the youngest populations in the world giving it the economic edge over China and the West. Dr Rao estimates that 64% of our population will be in the age range of 20 – 30 by the year 2020. Since most patients in the NNDTC clinic are around this age demographic, the country cannot perceive this number to be small.
What Measures Is India Taking To Combat Opioid Addiction?
The UNODC and AIIMS-NDDTC have collaborated to start the Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) program that uses Methadone to treat opioids addiction. This is a substitution therapy where the medical procedure replaces the illicit opioids with the synthetic medication Methadone. This therapy helps in diminishing withdrawal symptoms, reducing craving for the illicit drug and decreasing chances of relapse in addicts. The World Health Organization has estimated that only 3% of substance users receive MMT in India, while 69% in Australia and 90% in the United Kingdom receive this treatment. Although the Government had stopped funding medical clinics that provided MMT, the NDDTC doctors are hopeful that the program will be funded further due to the successful outcome of MMT.
How To Prevent Opioid Addiction?
1. Do not relent when your acquaintances tell you to only “try” using the substance
2. Since prescription opioids are present in the form of medicines and painkillers, use them wisely. Always follow your medical practitioner’s orders and do not exceed the dosage
3. Do not worry about getting addicted to the medication and wait until the condition becomes unbearable. This might have a reverse effect and you might end up taking more pills than you should
4. Ask yourself if you absolutely must have medicines that contain opiates. If not, look for alternatives
Opioid abuse is a major cause of concern. Prescription medicines are the easiest access to opioid drugs. Hence, it is important to monitor its usage. If you or a loved one have successfully combated substance addiction, share your story with us in the comments section.