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March 21, 2004 

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Drug addiction ruins many families 

Taslima Hossan

Inside the room, lit only by a kerosene lamp, five men crouched around a small stool. The lamp flickers on the stool while the men use a foil to heat up something they call heroin, a popular drug for the addicts. The five men are there in different shapes and doing different things. One is holding a pipe while another, tears in his dreary eyes, looks for more drugs.

The scene is common in many slum huts in Dhaka's Saidabad area, according to some neighbours. Such "adda" takes place in hundreds of huts in the impoverished area - sometimes to the knowledge of law enforcement agencies. Some parties go late into the night. And there are women too.

Rasheda ( not her real name) does odd work for survival. At 28, she looks like a woman in the late 50s. She loses balance and trembles like a sick person whenever she fails to get her doses of heroin. She waits for others to finish and take in the leftover because she has no money to buy the drug.

Not long ago she was happy with her husband and a daughter. But her trouble began when the husband -- a small trader -- left her to marry another woman. Looking for work, she met another woman who introduced her to this darkened life where poor and struggling people resort to drugs often to bury their sorrows and miseries. However, the addition leads them to further miseries.

Drug abuse and addiction have become a growing phenomenon in Bangladesh, especially in cities. It has affected people from all walks of life. The clients are from all sections of the society -- the rich as well as the poor. Pinpointing a reliable data on the number of drug addicts across the country is difficult. But unofficial estimates put the number at more than 2 million, including women. Anti-drug volunteers found more than 63 women in Saidabad City Palli in January this year. The addicts include housewives and even female students. Most of the addicts take phensidyl, heroin, pathedrin and ganja.

Life, an anti-drug organisation, has recently conducted a survey on 465 students from higher institutions, including the Dhaka University - and 130 of them were women - from 33 male and 12 female dormitories. The survey, however, also included cigarette as a drug. The survey found that 55 percent male and nearly 8 percent female students smoke cigarettes while alcohol is taken by about 14 percent male and about 4 percent female students. About 12 percent female students were found to be addicted to bhang and charas. A small percentage of female students were found to be heroin addicted. According to another survey, the addiction was found to be high among prostitutes.

Consider sex worker Khodeza. She says she takes drugs to bury pain and illness. She says there are clients who would force sex workers to take drugs.

Loneliness, failure of love affairs, neglect by husbands and relatives and violence are the reasons why women take to drug addiction, experts say. To this category belong women from middle and upper classes and even educated housewives. Some are led to this dark alley by drug addicted husbands. That's what has happened with Shila, a housewife in Dhaka. One night she complained of appendicitis pain and her husband told her to take heroin. Shila realised that she made a mistake and one day she met a friend of her husband who misled her to further drug addiction. She wanted to quit, but it seemed too late.

Doctors say drug addiction is more harmful to women than men. Says Dr. Zhunu Shamsunnahar, who treats psychiatric patients, drug addiction affects women's reproduction abilities; causes irregular menstruation and abortion. Drug addicts are also at a risk of contracting deadly disease AIDS. In addition to causing physical problems, drug addicts also suffer from mental problems.

There are a number of private centres, including Central Drug Treatment Centre in Dhaka, to deal with drug addicts and their treatment. There are facilities for women too. The centres also offer telephone counseling.

Paltu, 35, has recovered from drug addiction after two years of regular therapy and treatment. Dr. Mahadev Chandra Mandol, who works at the Drug Treatment Centre, says a drug addict can recover with a two-year uninterrupted treatment. However, steps are taken against relapses.

Advocate Rehana Sultana says that anti-drug measures should be strengthened. They say drug trafficking carries up to death sentence as the maximum penalty.



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