Meet focuses on female drug users


Shillong, Feb 22 :
Nini was a football player representing the state in several tournaments. Her passion to play soccer was, however, ruined following her disqualification from the team soon after it was found that she is a drug addict.
A recovering drug addict for the past 10 years now, Nini is one of the few female drug users who have come out to present a testimony of the discrimination and stigma she had to undergo as a young student.
“I was stigmatised and discriminated upon by people around me. But the journey of hope began through the love and support I received from my family,” she said.
“Male drug users are also discriminated upon but not as much as females. The discrimination is more in a matrilineal society; females are looked up as homemakers and pillars of the family,” Nini, who was into drugs for four years, added. The young woman also said: “Addiction is not a crime. It is a disease that can be cured. We need to fight against discrimination.”
Perhaps learning from Nini’s experience, a demand was made here today to have a distinct female-centric intervention programme to save the women not only from drugs, but most importantly from the shackles of stigma and discrimination.
At a conference organised by the Voluntary Health Association of Meghalaya, an NGO, at the Raitong building here, participants were shocked to discover that there are currently 92 female “injecting drug users” in and around the city who have registered with the organisation.
From these 92 females “injecting drug users”, five have been found to be HIV-positive.
The hot spot areas in and around the city vis-à-vis the presence of female injecting drug users include Happy Valley, Nongmynsong, Polo, Rynjah, Pdeng shnong, Nongrim Hills, Khyndai Lad (Police Bazar), Nongthymmai, Malki, Mawprem, Laban, Laitumkhrah, Pynthorumkhrah and Lapalang.
These were identified under the Female Injecting Drug Users-181 project of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The project was initially started in April 2010 with just a few female clients. During the initial period of the project, the focus was to identify female drug users in Shillong. The project became full-fledged in October 2011 with appointed staff and a registered clientele of around 20.
However, project director and the association’s member, Ronald Phanwar, said it was a difficult task to get female drug users to register themselves under the project as the “fear” within them of being stigmatised was a distressing factor.
“We need to have a biased intervention and form a female-centric approach vis-à-vis drug abuse before the menace reaches alarming heights,” Phanwar said.
Former youth leader and Nongkrem legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, who was the chief guest at the conference, stressed the need to build stronger families besides having a collaborative approach to tackle the menace of drug abuse.
“People use drugs not only for pleasure. Many resort to the practice as a means of escape. It is a matter of serious concern as we never thought that the problem would creep into our society,” Basaiawmoit said. He pointed out that a collaborative venture among the social organisations and faith-based organisations was the need of the hour.
The legislator also called upon the government to ensure that drug peddlers are handed out severe punishment under the various provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
The gathering was also informed that the state social welfare department was giving final touches to the State Drugs Policy, which has incorporated certain segments vis-à-vis female drug users.
The conference felt that to control the menace of drug abuse among women, convergence among all government departments, reaching out to slum areas and street children, collaboration between NGOs and asking the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) to put in place a female-centric intervention programme have become imperative.