By Faith Lawino and Beryl Okendo
Euphoria. The feel high effect. This is a state of intense happiness and excitement that usually lasts only for a short time. “Feel high, feel good”, who doesn’t want to feel good anyway. Call it a millisecond of happiness but it makes you forget your daily troubles and struggles. This is what is caused by drug addiction. Dependency.
Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medicine. These drugs include substances such as alcohol, nicotine, heroine, cannabis, and marijuana among others. Drug abuse and addiction occur among various groups of people, both young and old, men and women alike. These addictions are caused by many factors; depression, peer pressure especially among adolescents, the nature of certain jobs, and surprisingly addiction to certain strong drugs used during surgical procedures. Such drugs are used to numb pain.
A visit to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral (JOOTRH) MAT- Wellness center, portrays an act of serving humanity. An effort to uplift any drug addict from the depths of a so dark abyss and fangs of sneering python called drug addiction and dependency. MAT (Medication Assisted Therapy), is the use of medicine that is aided by therapy to end drug addiction, especially in Persons Who Inject Drugs (PWID). This MAT center is also known as the Wellness Centre. It handles different activities from induction of clients that come to visit, counseling, medication, and follow-up of whined patients, who have overcome addiction. The center, from afar, radiates a friendly vibe. The words- Wellness center promises a haven of well-being and victory. The courtesy extends to the staff members patronized by Psychologist Amos Ngulu from CIHEB- an organization in partnership with JOOTRH.
Mr. Ngulu defines demeanor, his communication with the patients would awe you. Despite the aggressiveness shown by some of the patients, he has become a bossom to one and all. He explains in detail, with calmness and love, what drug addiction is, the dependency it creates, and the scenarios thereof. Drug addiction, to some, is a way of escaping the real world. “The drugs make me forget my problems, I mean I can’t do without them.” “It all started when I lost my job, since then I have become a drunkard.” These are just the start of endless stories of drug addiction.
The most common drug abused includes cocaine and Heroine. Others include opia, some of which are prescribed in hospitals as strong painkillers. Heroine, however, tends to be the main giant drug. At the end of last month, the MAT center had 135 patients who were active in treatment. Most of these patients vary according to age groups, adolescents, men women. Patients who became drug addicts due to street life, peer pressure, or different personal reasons take the highest percentage. They are followed by patients who became addicts due to drugs used on them during surgery or those under palliative care.
Surgery is a process that leaves a patient with a lot of pain, sometimes, excruciating pain. This is why strong painkillers, especially pethidine, prescribed in hospitals are administered to patients to relieve their pain. Some of these patients end up as addicts, living under a dependency on pethidine whose side effects include addiction. Continuous administration of these drugs leads to addiction and dependency. This drug is regulated in its use and administration, nonetheless, some fall into addiction. A story is given of a woman whose addiction to this strong painkiller has disintegrated her family. She has become an addict. Her marriage is on the verge of collapsing. This woman underwent several surgeries and the pain, she couldn’t bear. The result of the use of the drug drove her to dependency.
Drug dependency is not a one-time thing. These patients are put under methadone medication. Methadone works to stabilize the body system and takes care of cravings and withdrawals. This drug is administered under the supervision of medics and the patients visit the MAT center every day, to take their medication. The patients, take longer or shorter periods to stop using the methadone drug. The medicine is issued gradually depending on the level of addiction. Other patients even consume the drug for a lifetime to prevent relapsing. The medics perform close supervision to ensure that these patients take their drugs and that these drugs cannot be carried home.
Apart from medication, there are counseling services for the patients both individually and in group therapy. One session of therapy is customized to take around 45 minutes but some take short or long hours depending on the type of patient. The counseling rooms offer maximum privacy for the patient with no disturbance. Group therapy provides psychosocial support for all members. Sarah Patricia, one of the counselors to these patients, says that some patients are usually impatient and short-tempered. They, however, despite the shortcoming, understand the patients and offer them the best services ever.
The counseling unit also offers family therapy to help the family members understand and embrace one of their own who might be addicted to drugs. This is because most families break up due to these addiction tendencies and the addicts are usually treated as an outcast and judged negatively. This process helps in the quick recovery of the patient as support and encouragement is very important in the process of quitting an addiction.
The MAT center also consists of a triage room. This is where all patient’s vitals are checked before they begin treatment including; measurement of height, weight, blood pressure, and temperature of the patient. The patient is also questioned on the type of drug they are on to determine the best treatment that can be offered. The next step is laboratory tests to find out the type of content or drug that is present in the blood. The lab also tests for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. These are very essential tests especially HIV since most of these patients tend to share needles during opia intake in their bodies.
CIHEB as a partner has a mandate of implementing an HIV/AIDS prevention program to offer HIV and counseling services. It has established Drop-in Centres at the community level to help bring in all drug addicts. This a very friendly model since most of them are usually stigmatized, here, they have a sense of belonging. They work in a community and facility model. Drop-in centers are identified on the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction, these are the hotspot areas where the drug addiction rate is high. The centers so far are Manyatta and Nyamasaria.
The program also ensures the distribution of needles and syringes to these drug addicts. This activity was initiated after the Needle and Syringe Exchange Program (NSSP) in 2010. This is an effort to prevent and reduce HIV/AIDS infection due to sharing of needles and syringes.
The wellness center has had several success stories of those who have recovered from drug addiction. These achievements are overwhelming. They are journeys filled with determination, courage, and support. These patients are now clean and sober. They are ‘born again.’ Some of these recovered addicts are then appointed as peer educators to help guide their fellows who are in the process of recovery. There are two sides to a coin, not all of the recovered patients retain their sobriety. Some relapse to start treatment all over again. The MAT center helps to overcome their addictions for there is a second chance for everyone.
JOOTRH Wellness center efforts go far and wide. The facility does follow-up for patients who are whined off from the program. These are individuals who have recovered from their addiction. They also organize outreaches, especially in the dens or hotspots of drug abuse to educate and enroll addicts in the MAT program. Other services include referral linkages to addicts who are retained in prisons. These patients are ferried to and from the hospital for medication and therapy sessions.
Mr. Ngulu says that addiction has its shortcomings. Addiction leads to theft, especially when there is no money to buy the drugs. A smalheroinity of heroine goes for approximately ksh.200. This means an addict would need about ksh.4000 daily to purchase the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The urge for narcotics to override everything forces an individual to turn to steal. This poses an addict with life in jail. Some are killed in the process of stealing. An effort to experience the ‘feel the high effect.’
The major issue that is hence difficult to deal with is socioeconomic issues. The program has even tried to support some addicts by engaging them in business activities. A sad state of affairs is that most end up relapsing, they use the monies to purchase drugs.
The process of overcoming drug addiction is an uphill, task, however, it is POSSIBLE. Drug addiction poses a threat to the development of an individual, society, and the country at large. Addiction can occur to anyone, a lawyer, doctor, artisan saloonist, teacher, name them. JOOTRH MAT-Wellness center hence is a center of hope, a journey leading to sobriety. Drug addiction and dependency are defeatable.