The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Drugs care for children

Siliguri, June 26: Taking a break from sweeping compartments, Bhaskar, all of 11 years, gets off a train at the New Jalpaiguri station and goes to a secluded corner where others like him are huddled together. They are all sniffing at a cloth smeared with glue and he joins them.

'I used to get dizzy and light-headed and it felt good,' he said describing his high while sitting at Sebayan, the first detoxification centre in Siliguri. It is run by West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA). Four other children, who were not just into glue-sniffing but gutkha and alcohol consumption as well, were with him.

Partha Biswas of Concern, an NGO working for children residing on platforms and streets, had sent Bhaskar and his friends to Sebayan. 'Bhaskar used to earn around Rs 130 a day. His addiction level had reached such a state that he spent only Rs 10 on food and the rest went in buying Dendrite,' he said.

Drugs and alcohol abuse is on the rise in the trading hub and its surroundings, the victims being mostly children between eight and 12 years.

'This is the first time we have admitted children for treatment,' said Manna Mukherjee, the project director of Sebayan. This year's theme of International Day against Drug Abuse (June 26), Drugs are not child's play, lends all the more importance to the situation.

Being the only centre to treat addicted persons with a low income, several voluntary organisations have started sending children rescued by them here.

But the centre is not without its share of shortcomings. The 15 beds at the centre are always occupied by substance abusers, starting from intravenous drug users (by which lethal viruses like HIV and hepatitis B spread) to those taking heroin, brown sugar and alcohol.

'The detox treatment lasts for a month, and without a rehabilitation centre, which will take care of recovering patients for the next six months in a different environment, the chances of relapse are high,' said Tarun Maity, the programme manager of the WBVHA's Siliguri unit.

Mukherjee said the rate of recovery was just 41 per cent, with a number of patients coming back for a second or third stint of detox. 'This is why a rehab centre is very important. We are planning to set up one in the next six months, provided the funds are in place,' Maity added.

More treatment centres are also required and urgently too. 'There is no provision for women substance abusers at the centre,' said D.N. Chatterjee, a consultant physician associated with Unicef and the ILO. 'I am also getting women addicts, who usually come from tea gardens, especially the ones that are closed.' Unemployment has encouraged estate workers and their families to take up some form of addiction or the other.

Laptop for student

Members of Corpus ' a citizens' body based in Kalimpong ' presented a laptop to local boy Dipesh Kalikote, a second semester student of Jalpaiguri Government Engineering College. The 20-year-old Kalikote was awarded for academic excellence at a small programme today. A new organisation, Himalayan Anti AIDS and Narcotic Drugs Society (HANDS), was formed at the same programme.

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