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     Volume 5 Issue 97 | June 2, 2006 |

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Lifting the Curse

Former drug user now helps others

Zam Khairuzzaman

The curse of drug abuse threatened to consume Ripon but he was saved in time, unlike hundreds of others in the country whose lives are being ruined by drugs. This young man is now contributing to Dhaka Ahsania Mission's (DAM) effort in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users. He takes care of drug dependent patients through motivation, stress management, peer counselling and other daily activities at the Ahsania Mission Drug Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre at Rajendrapur in Gazipur.

DAM has equipped Ripon with the skills he needs to help others, as well as provide new opportunities that represent dignity and hope.

"I feel so excited to be asked to share my story and wonderfully strong to be able to tell it. Before going into the rehabilitation programme I could not have done this. The shame and embarrassment I felt was huge. I still feel the shame and embarrassment occasionally but I also feel great pride in what I have achieved," says Ripon.

In 1995 Ripon started to use drugs as a way to forget his problems. As time passed the sense of pleasure gradually became a terrible burden that threatened his very life. Finally, when the torment became too much, he got himself admitted to the Ahsania Mission Drug Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in September 2004. "I was terrified, but the staff and residents were so caring and welcoming that I hesitantly started my journey of healing and self-discovery" recalls Repon. 'I know that the staff care about me and are concerned about my future."

At the centre, recovering drug addicts learn how to leave the shame of their former lives and become healthy, confident individuals

"I lived in a friendly atmosphere. I learned lots of things during my stay. After six months at the centre, I learned such things as anger management, relationship and communication skills and relaxation techniques. I played games and wrote articles in the wall magazine at the centre that helped me develop my creative side. I learned to trust and to be trusted; now I have some true friends and a wonderful support network. I feel that through the programme I have a new chance at life and I have choices'.

Ripon no doubt, was given a new lease on life at the centre. He has remained drug-free for more than one and a half years and is now serving as a valuable member of the Ahsania Mission team in helping drug users in their personal, family, social life. There are too many stories like Ripon's. Sadly, unlike Ripon, many do not have a happy ending. Over the last few years the standard of living has plummeted dramatically leaving many struggling to survive. The misery that has resulted provides fertile ground for high-risk lifestyles like drug abuse. Amidst the current social and economic environment, hope is being superceded by an atmosphere of despondency and despair. For many, drugs serve as a solution to their problems.

An estimated five million people in the country, most of them young people, are drug users. About 8.9 per cent of the injecting drug users (IDU) are bound to be HIV positive (HIV prevalence among IDUs has increased from 1.4 per cent to 4 per cent to 8.9 in a certain area in central Dhaka) and around 83 per cent have Hepatitis C infection, according to Dhaka Ahsania Mission sources. As the number of drug users is increasing every day, a humanitarian crisis looms with the growing threat of HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS cases are linked to intravenous drug use.

Over the past few years the number of newly registered cases has increased to a great extent. Yet committed workers like Ripon provide hope that a better day is on the horizon. Since 1990, DAM is working to prevent drug and HIV/AIDS through its network of several hundred community based branch committees involving youths, students, teachers, NGOs, various clubs and local administration. The network is spread all over the country.

DAM is a pioneer in drug prevention. Hundreds of people have been cured and rehabilitated in the centre. Through regular counselling and life skills training, these individuals have been given an opportunity to excel in their everyday work and develop the skills needed to help others overcome obstacles. "I've always wanted to help other drug users, but I never knew how. Dhaka Ahsania Mission has given me this opportunity.' Ripon takes his job very seriously.

"I walk one foot in front of the other, says Repon" this takes not just a day or a week but a life time journey of discovering myself and who I am. I have been given a gift it's about believing in ME.

DAM is a member of Switzerland based International Council on Alcohol and Addiction (ICAA) and its president and chief executive Kazi Rafiqul Alam has been elected a member of the Board of Directors of ICAA.

Creating a warm, friendly atmosphere helps former addicts to start leading normal lives

The ultimate effect of drugs and HIV/AIDS is death says Alam. The younger generation of our society is increasingly indulging in this death trap. Considering the alarming situation, DAM took up its drug prevention programme known as AMIK as back as 1990.

DAM mainly organises adolescents and young adults in the vulnerable areas to keep their community free from abuse and illicit drug trafficking. It also tries to increase social awareness about the consequences of HIV/AIDS. The programme also organises community-based treatment and rehabilitation centres for the recovered addicts.

AMIK is running the treatment and rehabilitation centre for treatment, counselling and skill development of the addicts including reintegration/rehabilitation of the recovered addicts, says Alam.

DAM, explains Alam has a plan to build more drug treatment and rehabilitation centres in some parts of the country. At present a centre will be built in Jessore and another one will be built in the capital exclusively for female drug users.

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