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Anti-drug lecture after intern death

Rapid mood changes in friends and disappearance of valuables from hostel rooms could be signs of drug abuse, a clutch of first-year students of the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Reasearch-SSKM was told on Friday.

Officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) described at a seminar the unusual symptoms that the MBBS students could see among peers abusing drugs or medical stimulants on the sly that might turn fatal after an overdose.

“If your friend is making frequent trips to the washroom or you find white specks on his nostrils followed by a change in his behaviour, it’s time to raise the alarm. You need to alert your teachers immediately,” Jiten Rajan of the NCB said.

Rajan and his team turned up at SSKM soon after the first-year students finished their class on anatomy. “This is the first time such a programme was held at a medical college in the city,” he said.

The NCB lecture comes in the backdrop of 24-year intern Saptarshi Das’s death on campus on February 22 because of an alleged overdose of heroin.

A former student of the Narendrapur-based Ramakrishna Mission, Saptarshi would have completed his internship on March 21. He suffered a cardiac arrest following intravenous overdose of drugs. He was found unconscious in room No. 426 of the boys’ hostel with his batchmate Shahbaaz Siddiqui who recovered later.

Calcutta police detectives said the Saptarshi-Shahbaaz case gave credence to the suspicion that a section of medical students were regularly in touch with peddlers. They said many students knew about the practice but didn’t inform the authorities.

“Informing the authorities is crucial because it can save your friend’s life,” Rajan said.

“In a few years from now you will be prescribing drugs to patients. In between, you’ll go through periods of stress, particularly during exams, and might feel tempted to use stimulants,” explained Rajan. “If you try it once to study late into the night, you will feel terribly tired the following morning and won’t be able to write the exam.”

Pradip Mitra, the director of IPGMER, and Amal Kanti Das, the dean of student affairs at SSKM, sat with the students during the hour-and-a-half-long session.

“As doctors you are supposed to save people’s lives. It would be a disaster if you end up dying to drugs,” the NCB official said. “You as MBBS students are aware how drugs affect the central nervous system. Don’t do drugs... not even under peer pressure.”

The students gasped as pictures of Grammy-winning British pop singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in July 2011 after years of drug abuse, were projected on the screen in front.

“We knew little about the importance of observing small yet vital signs of addiction. I didn’t know the importance of reporting odd behaviours to the authorities,” said Debtanu Banerjee, a student.

NCB officials said they would conduct similar sessions at other medical colleges too. “We would concentrate on medical colleges because drug abuse is apparently becoming a big problem there,” Rajan said.