By Evelin Jaita Karmokar
Md. Kashem is a resident of Nazimuddin Road, in Old Dhaka. He lives with his family of mother, brothers, wife, and his three daughters. He used to work as a technician in a plastic industry. Now, he repairs faulty machines for cash to run the expenses of his family. He has been in this profession for the past 40 years. He did not study much, he is a primary school dropout. His elder daughter completed Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC), and is married. Second daughter completed Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and now works as a beautician in a local salon; the youngest daughter is studying in class 5.
While working as a technician in the workshop, Kashem had some friends and colleagues with whom he drank alcohol periodically; he was also in the habit of smoking weed occasionally, which later on led to heroin. All these started when he was around 25 years of age. Initially he had plenty of money for using drugs, his income was quite sufficient to feed his family and to spend money on drugs. But later he started using injectable heroin because it was cheap and gave him more pleasure and peace.
He regularly used heroin in small quantity before and after work. It did not have any impact on his job or in the family. He used about half or quarter dose of heroin. Most of the time he shared his dose with others. He also experimented with heavier drugs such as Phensedyl, weed, heroin, alcohol and much more. He shared needles with his drug mates on a regular basis. At the time, he had no idea about the danger of sharing same needles.
Kashem has been a heroin addict for most his life. About a year and half ago, he started feeling physical changes. He was increasingly started losing weight, his body became weak and vulnerable. Some of his friends even died from using injectable heroin. This made him fear for his life. When he learned that there is a dropping center (a CARE intervention for opiate - dependent persons that replaces illicit drug use with medically prescribed, orally administered opiates known as methadone) for PWIDs (People who Inject Drugs), he started visiting the place to curb his drug habits.
When he went for blood test, he learned that he is HIV positive. The counsellors at the dropping center explained to him about the deadly disease and how he may have acquired this for sharing injections. Now he regularly takes medication in consultation with the doctors at the dropping center. ”I just wanted to get rid of this disease as soon as possible”, he said. After he started treatment for Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST); he informed his family about his physical condition. His wife also got herself tested and she was safe. Since learning of his illness, his family has been an immense support.” My daughters are very supportive. They come to me instantly whenever they hear I am physically unwell. They provide us money for food and medicines, I don’t have any problem with my family, and I am a happy father with my loving family”, he said. It took him nearly a year to complete OST.
“If I knew about the consequences of drugs, I would never tried those. CARE Bangladesh assisted me a lot through regular counselling and medicines to recover from this situation. Physically I am a lot better now and trying to lead a healthy and happy life with my family. I also quit smoking cigarettes after starting the OST.” , he added.
Kashem is lucky to have a family to support him through this tough phase in his life. But most are not this lucky. Most drug users live on streets and resort to petty theft to feed their habit. Unemployment is also a problem for them when it comes to giving up the drug habit. The team leader of PWID program Abu Taher said,” Most of the drug users live on street, they are deprived of all the basic needs. Employment is very much needed for them. It is a matter of concern now, otherwise it is going to be difficult for them to be drug free”.