Until we dismantle the structures that hold prejudice against drug addicts of Nepal, our outcasts will forever remain at the edges of our societies, inside rehabs says Nischal Niraula
The last Saturday of every month came to me as a difficult question.
It’s when a dozen other former drug addicts and I used to come together to talk about our lives, recoveries, successes and slip-ups. Saturdays were a safe space to talk about our experiences that weren’t and couldn’t be understood by the outside world.
I had been out of touch with the Saturday circle since the pandemic, until recently when I received a phone call. On the other side of the phone spoke a timid voice of a former using partner. He informed one of the members of our circle had passed away.
Diatye, as he popularly went by, had died as a result of a ruptured vein while shooting drugs.
After grief subdued, the Saturday question persisted — why was I able to recover from addiction with relative ease while people whom I deemed far wiser were stuck in the revolving door of relapse and rehabs?
The average age of drug users in Nepal is 26.4 years. A more shocking statistic reveals that about 1,00,165 drug users are below the age of 30 years while users began abusing drugs at just 13 years of age.
Young people of Nepal are the most vulnerable to the long-term effects of drug use and every year and many drug users are affected by health complications resulting from drug use. In many cases, countless youngsters like Diatye end up losing their life.
Lack of Support System.
After 3-years of struggle with problematic substance abuse behaviour, I decided to sober up. Instantly, I was showered with immense love and support from my friends and family.
I spent my days pursuing new hobbies — videogames, learning instruments and travelling. Whenever I was faced with an intense urge to use, I would confide in my loved ones. They listened and would quickly talk me out of it.
The friends I had made at my expensive, private school helped me secure a respectable job. I did not want to use drugs anymore. Now, I had goals, ambitions and dreams. Things, I’d seldom think about as a user.
On Saturdays, however, I am faced with the uncomfortable truth that these privileges were exclusive to me. Most young people do not get the opportunity to study in a decent school and make career guiding connections. Ambitions are a privilege. Not everyone has a family that supports them and their costly pastimes. Hobbies are a luxury. Though inconvenient, it’s important to acknowledge these truths. It helps us realize that everyone can overcome addiction provided that there are support systems in place.
The stigma surrounding drug addicts of Nepal.
Despite the reiterations from organizations like WHO, Nepali society and its legal system still view drug abuse as a crime instead of a disorder. The stigma associated with substance abuse often hinders the process of rehabilitation and recovery.
In a desperate attempt to keep the problem a secret, most families avoid seeking help (as did mine), until all hope is lost. The stigmatization only gets worse with age. The younger generation is generally more open to discussing mental health issues and therapies are encouraged. My friends are always open to hearing about my struggles with addictions.
But if the words of my older partners are anything to go by, their non-using friends are entirely dismissive of the subject matter. It’s almost as if talking about the issue will repeat it. Perhaps that’s why the Saturday circle was so important, especially to the older members.
Solving the Money Problem.
Seeking help is a costly affair and not everyone is able to afford rehab. Recently, I sat down with Saurav Chaulagain, a founder at Peace Home rehabilitation centre, Panauti to learn the severity of the problem.
“Despite wanting to quit drugs, most users don’t have the financial capacity to receive treatment,” he shared, “but what do you do when a teenager comes to you teary-eyed, begging to be rehabilitated?”
It’s not a unique case either. In fact, it’s so frequent that Saurav’s rehab does not have a fixed menu price per se. Instead, the prices are set according to the financial background of the user. Saurav takes them in himself and at any given time, there are up to 5 users receiving free treatment at his rehab.
It is not just enough to increase surveillance and control drug sales, the government of Nepal should provide free treatment facilities to those who cannot afford rehabilitation and also work towards providing employment and skills development opportunities to reintegrate them into society.
The Unwelcome Society.
Having been locked away in rehabs for a long time, users and society become alien to one another. Old friends are estranged. Relatives are unwelcoming. But the innate social needs demand fulfilment.
Many users in recovery are forced to turn back to their old circle which often threatens a relapse. Receiving treatment is but a transit point into a drug-free life.
According to Drugabuse.gov, 40 – 60 per cent of the users relapse soon after going to rehab. So, the important step here is to get the drug addicts of Nepal assimilated back into society.
But the stigma makes the process easier said than done. “People will readily sympathize with users, but few offer them a job or companionship,” says Saurav.
Neuroscientist and a past user Marc Lewis, in his book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, talks about how addiction does not just come from biological and psychological factors but also the complex social systems.
According to him, there is little use for costly rehabs if the users are sent back to an environment “which is set up for relapse.”
Change in Perspective.
Since the problem is holistic, the solution too must be holistic.
Prejudice against users is deeply rooted within our social structure. Despite the advancement in psychological and sociological research, we continue to associate addiction with a lack of morality and weak character.
Until we dismantle the structures that hold prejudice against drug users, our outcasts will forever remain at the edges of our societies, inside rehabs.
As young people, it is our responsibility to embrace and introduce our outcasts to a world that is warm and welcoming. A world that is different from the harsh, scornful and rigid world they’ve lived in for their entire lives. A world where every day and everywhere is a safe Saturday.
Nischal Niraula is a former journalist, now working as an online content creator. He is also a student of Social Science interested in learning about the sociology of the internet and tacit cultural norms.