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Siliguri in the grip of drug menace, says survey

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By AMIT UKIL in Siliguri
  • Published 26.06.07

Siliguri, June 26: Injecting drug users of Siliguri have the highest rate of HIV infection in Bengal, according to a recent government survey.

Data from the latest surveillance conducted by the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society in December 2006 reveal that as much as 10 per cent of injecting drug users in the Siliguri region are HIV positive. Tiljala in Calcutta has the next highest infection rate at 5.2 per cent, while the state average is 4.65 per cent.

The survey, carried out with assistance from Quest Asia, a research and consultancy firm, was held through five surveillance points in the state, two of which are in Darjeeling district. A total of 250 injecting drug users were tested at each of these points.

The Society for Community Intervention and Research, an NGO that set up two branches in Siliguri in 2004 to carry out targeted intervention and treatment, currently has as many as 200 injecting drug users enrolled on its harm-reduction programme.

“The number is increasing every month,” said Debashis Roy, the NGO’s centre-in-charge, as he led a torchlight rally this evening through Hill Cart Road, brought out on the International Day against Drug Abuse.

“Besides HIV, Hepatitis B and C are also spreading among users, who suffer from abscess and skin problems as well,” Roy said. “The sharing of needles and repeated injections in the same place cause all this.”

At the behest of the state AIDS society, two harm-reduction projects have been launched in the Siliguri region, where clean needles are exchanged for those used by the addicts, said Tapas Karmakar, the project officer of the society’s project support unit.

“They are also given alternative drugs to wean them away from heroin and brown sugar, which are more dangerous,” Karmakar told the audience at a seminar organised today by Sebayon, a drug detoxification centre set up in the Matigara area near Siliguri in 1994. He added that this aspect of treatment is largely misunderstood.

Of the 15 beds at Sebayon, a unit of the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association, four are now taken up by recovering injecting drug users. “The other inmates are brown sugar chasers and ganja and alcohol addicts,” said Manna Mukherjee, Sebayon’s director.

The centre also treats children addicted to sniffing dendrite. These children are referred to them by the Child in Need Institute (CINI), North Bengal. “We rescue them from railway platforms and bus stations. A few of them are hardly into their teens and have fallen prey to substance abuse through peer pressure,” said Marissa Dunne, a CINI coordinator, at the same seminar.

A special six-day art of living therapy will be held soon for HIV positive persons, including former injecting drug users, to help them cope with their changed situation. “Mediation and yoga will be the main components of the therapy,” said Tarun Maiti, project manager of the voluntary health association.