Cramped up drug rehab centres pose high risk of increasing COVID-19 spread in Manipur

The over one lakh estimated drug users in Manipur is viewed as a high risk group for COVID-19 infection as most of them tend to venture out in search for their daily fix in the absence of a drug policy or regulatory mechanism for private rehabilitation centres despite lockdown in the state.

A rehabilitation centre in Imphal (PHOTO: IFP)

Private rehabilitation centres in Manipur were taking in new admissions when the state was declared a green zone following its COVID-19 free status after the first two confirmed cases of the illness had recovered and discharged from the hospital. However, COVID-19 started to spread again in the state with increasing number of returnees to the state from other states amid lockdown. Although there has been no reported case of community transmission till date, it is estimated that there are one lakh drug users in the state who could be categorised as a high risk group for COVID-19 infection, who in turn could cause the spread of the illness at the community level. Despite the lockdown curfew, most of them continue to move around to get their daily doses. The protocol for physical distancing to fight COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for them to follow because their priority is to satisfy their urge and they do not seem to care for the virus.

A drug user told the Imphal Free Press that he has been consuming drugs for the last five years and has become a complete addict. At present, he is unable to quit using drugs despite his desire to stop. Sharing about his daily struggle in getting his daily doses, he said the easy availability of drugs and psychotropic substance is reduced since the lockdown was imposed. The situation has compelled him to go out more unlike before and prices are also increasing tremendously, he added.

“These days, I have to travel more and spend more money to fulfil my daily requirement. I do wear masks to prevent from being detained by police and protect myself from getting infected. But I hang out with my teammates who take doses on a daily basis. I usually forget to maintain social distancing and they also forget as well,” he said.

Another user said he does not bother about the coronavirus, lockdown or police when he is going through the extreme urge to get the drug. But after getting his required fix, he starts thinking of all such things, he said.

“By any means, I try to get my daily dose. Sometimes police detain me when I move around in search of the drug. But I become carefree as my main concern is the substance not the virus or police,” he added.

In an interaction, the convenor of Community Response on COVID-19 (CROC-119), RK Nalinikanta said there was a restriction in taking new admissions at private rehabilitation centres during the initial stage of lockdown. But when Manipur was declared COVID-19 free and enlisted as a green zone, most of the private rehabilitation centres started taking new inmates and still continuing despite the worsening condition in the state, he said.

The state does not have any drug policy or regulatory mechanism for private rehabilitation centres, he noted. The decision of putting restriction in taking new admission in private rehab centres was taken up by CROC-19, he said.

Such decision was taken as the institutions could become a place for transmission if newly admitted inmates are carrying the virus, he further said while adding they also recommend not shutting down rehab centres because those who are undergoing treatment will relapse.

Stating about reason of taking admission amid COVID-19 pandemic, he said the state is known for its drug menace. As such, the state government has launched ‘War against Drug’ campaign to eliminate the dangerous issue.

Considering the drug issue in the state, private rehabilitation centres are highly needed. Many untoward incidents are surfacing from the past years due to lack of regulatory mechanisms.

But many families of drug abusers wish to keep their wards or husbands at the centre with the hope to bring them back to normal life, he added.

Nalinikanta, who is also the President of CoNE, continued that CROC-19 had organised a month long camp of temporary shelter cum detoxification centre at three places. They are namely Punsi Rehabilitation Centre, Yumnam Khunou; Epa Ebungo Half Way Home and Income Generation, Loitang Khunou and Sanity Foundation, Patsoi.

During the camp, more than 100 inmates were admitted. This proves the importance of having rehabilitation centre even during COVID-19 pandemic. Besides, CoNE had filed a PIL to Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) on conversion of all the government sponsored dysfunctional drug rehab centres into quarantine centres for drug users who are picked up by police or clubs. Through the PIL, they also urged to identify schools, colleges and conduct detoxification camps. But no action has been taken up by the authority concerned, he maintained.

He continued that the problem of COVID-19 infection is worsening in the state. It is high time the state government to identify the vulnerable areas that can lead to community transmission. Pragmatic steps should be taken instead of simply focusing on testing and quarantining the returnees, he added.

CROC-19 is an umbrella organisation formed recently. It consists of 10 different NGOs working against drug abuse in the state. It was formed to prevent COVID-19 infection among the drug users as to prevent them from this disease and to prevent from community level transmission.

First Published:May 24, 2020, 9:32 a.m.

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