Rehab centres restrict admission of patients for Covid-19 outbreak
It was about 2am on April 15 when a helpless mother phoned the owner of a narcotics rehabilitation centre in Dhaka's Gulshan.
Breaking down in tears, she pleaded the owner to admit her drug addict son to his rehabilitation centre, but the owner refused.
"She was crying and pleading me to admit her son, as she could not control him," said the owner, on condition of anonymity.
"I didn't want to put my staff and other patients in coronavirus [infection] risk with admission of new patients. Instead I suggested her [the mother] to seek help from the Gulshan Police Station," he said, adding that his stock of of personal protection equipment (PPE) for his staff are limited.
To prevent spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, the government has enforced a shutdown and restricted public movement.
These measures have managed to reign in the illegal trade of narcotics to some extent.
"We are not allowing anyone to move, and have sealed all the narcotics spots. Even then, if anyone is found selling or using narcotics, we are taking lawful action against them," Mahmuda Afroz Lucky, additional deputy commissioner of Mirpur division police, told The Daily Star recently.
On the flip side, this cessation in narcotics trading has taken a toll on families of drug users, who are now undergoing severe withdrawal symptoms, and often turning violent.
Two days after the countrywide shutdown was imposed on March 25, a 17-year-old boy stabbed his mother to death as she refused to give him money for drugs.
The mother, Suraiya, used to work as a domestic help at a Jatrabari neighbourhood. On the fateful day, the boy first locked into a heated argument over money. At one stage, he stabbed his mother in front of their home, police said quoting eyewitness.
Talking to the Daily Star, Mukti Das, who has been running Setu Drug Addicts Rehabilitation Center, said many drug users are becoming violent on their family members in want of drugs.
"Family members are the ultimate sufferers in the hand of drug abusers," Mukti said.
Besides the government drug addict treatment centres, there are about 324 private centres which have around 4,103 beds.
However, almost all of them have stopped admitting new patients since March 25.
Ayaz Uddin, Deputy Managing Director (DMD) of Holy Life said they are not admitting new patients and not even allowing any visitors to see patients.
"It's a time when people could not even trust their own hands. We don't want to take any risk," he said.
Large rehabilitation centers like Mukti in Elephant Road and Prottoy in Baridhara have also stopped admitting new patients.
"Narcotics treatment is kind of group therapy and we have to provide the treatment in groups. For this reason, we are avoiding request for new admission as we don't have enough space in the rehab centres in Dhaka to ensure new admission during quarantine period," said the owner of a rehab centre in Mirpur, seeking anonymity.
"Thus, we do not want to take the risk of our admitted patients and staff getting infected," added the owner.
Eminent psychologist Dr Akhtaruzzaman Selim, who had worked at Central Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centre, said symptoms of withdrawal are more likely to occur among people who are addicted to heroine, morphine, sleeping pills and alcohol.
But yaba users are different. "Refrainment from taking yaba might cause someone to sleep for entire days at the start. After that, depression begins to grip them," he said, adding that symptoms can vary depending on a person's health and duration of addiction.
He suggested parents and guardians to deal with addicted family members with time and patience.
Khorshid Alam, assistant director of Department of Narcotics Control, said there are around hundred rehab centres in Dhaka, and they are trying to take updates from the centres via video call regularly.
"The number of patients may increase slightly but we are actually discouraging rehab authorities from taking in new patients. If they admit anyone, then we are asking them to follow the health directives strictly, and maintaining the 14-day quarantine is must," he told The Daily Star.