Buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat the opioid addiction, which is currently restricted to government and private drug de-addiction centres in Punjab, is now being introduced by the state government on the outpatient department (OPD) basis to treat drug addicts.
The treatment model, named as Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT), was suggested by a renowned American drug therapist and consultant Dr Kanwar Ajit Singh Sidhu. In the treatment plan, Buprenorphine dispensing will be done to Opioid dependent patients on daily basis. In the first phase, government is planning to start the programme in 22 rehabilitation centres and also few centres inside the jails.
Sidhu had given a presentation about his model before Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in May. The chief minister then formed a committee to prepare a comprehensive de-addiction and rehabilitation plan for victims of the drugs menace in the state.
A few years ago, the use of buprenorphine was restricted to the de-addiction centres in the state. The government banned the sale of the medicine at the chemist shops after reports of its misuse by the drug addicts.
A study conducted by All India Institute of Media Sciences and Delhi’s National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre to study Punjab’s drug problem had said last year that there were probably 8.6 lakh opioid users and around 2.3 lakh people were opioid-dependent.
A drug addict, doctors say, has to visit the OAAT centre, register and then undergo urine-screening test for drugs along side clinical assessment. “He will be checked to know that if an addict will be really an opioid dependent and then treatment would be started on the basis of diagnosis,” said a doctor involved in the project.
Dr Ranbir Singh Rana, in-charge of the government’s Tarn Taran facility, and one of the doctors involved in the project, said a “major and mandatory component of the model is intensive daily-based counselling and peer support.”
Sources said the core staff of the OOAT centre would consist one medical officer, one counsellor, one nurse and a lab attendant. The training of the staff would be soon started by Department of Psychiatry, Medical College, Amritsar .
“We will provide the training in batch wise. This month, the first batch of 35 people will be trained,” said Dr P D Garg, head of Department of Psychiatry who is one of the members constituted by the government for the OAAT model. “There will be regular batches who will undergo training at the hospital.”
In the run-up to Assembly elections held early this year, the Congress had promised to eliminate the drug problem within four weeks of its government in the state. There is, however, no major change in the drug de- addiction centres in the state. Now doctors say the new model is going to bring patients towards the health facilities.
“This (OAAT) is going to be very helpful for the he treatment…the programme is planned in such a way that he would be counselled to leave the drugs,” said Dr Garg.
Some doctors, however, fear that the sale of buprenorphine could get misused. “The government had to restrict it a few years ago because of misuse. If it plans to start the use of buprenorphine so widely, there are more chances of misuse,” said a psychiatrist working in a border district of the Punjab. Health officials, however, said strict monitoring at senior levels is being planned. A health department official said the government was also planning to register patients with the UID number and Aadhar card. “We are in talks with a company that will provide a software to keep track of patients…biometric system will be used for the process,” said an official.
ADGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu, chief of the anti-drugs Special Task Force (STF), said the STF is working closely with the health department to start the programme sooner in the state. State’s Health Secretary Anjali Bhawra refused to provide any details about the project. “Whenever we start the project, it will be shared with media,” Bhawra said.