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Addict Thanks Church-run Center For Helping Him Kick Drug Habit


October 04 2007

The dare to smoke as much ganja, or marijuana, as possible kept the boys taunting each other to puff until they passed out.

Eighteen years ago, one of those teenage lads, Tarun (not his real name), at first tried to avoid his school friends who smoked marijuana and cigarettes.

"They used to blow cigarette and ganja smoke toward my mouth," the 35-year-old Muslim told UCA News on Sept. 29. "We were the same age," Tarun said, "and they said I should try smoking like them." He fell for it.

Today, sitting in the Catholic Church-run Bangladesh Rehabilitation and Assistance Center for Addicts (BARACA) in Savar, 30 kilometers northwest of Dhaka, Tarun is trying to kick years of drug addiction.

In 1988, Holy Cross brothers pioneered de-addiction treatment in Bangladesh by opening BARACA. Its 1,115-square-meter one-story building contains living quarters and classrooms, and can serve 70-80 recovering addicts at a time.

Tarun´s brother brought him to the center on June 12, and now Tarun is one of 60 residents. His descent into addiction began in 1989 when his friends convinced him to try marijuana. "After inhaling ganja smoke two to three times, I fell into a deep sleep in an open field," he recalled.

His friends splashed water on him to wake him up, and he resolved the next day to "defeat my friends in smoking ganja."

The 16-year-old went farther than he could have imagined. He surpassed his friends in taking not only marijuana, but also wine and phensidyl, a banned cough syrup made with codeine in India. Then he moved to hard drugs, injecting heroin and pethidine, a morphine-like painkiller.

All the while, he continue his studies and managed to complete a college business course in Kolkata, India. He failed to qualify for a Master´s in a Business Administration course in Bangalore, India, but took the money for it from his parents anyway. Eventually, he returned home on a stolen motorcycle.

His older brother then found him a job promoting a company´s medicines to doctors and pharmacies. "I had a good salary, but it was not enough to pay for my regular drugs," he said, "so I began cheating my subordinates by borrowing money from them and later denying I had done so."

In 2005, three years after he married, his health deteriorated, and his wife and other family members started noticing his addiction. They tried to counsel him, "but their suggestions about quitting drugs made me angry and I would shout at them," Tarun said. "My health was so poor I knew I had to kick the habit, but I did not know how."

That is when his brother took him to BARACA, and Tarun´s world turned upside down. "After my arrival, my head was shaved," he recounted. "All the other residents came and hugged me, and gave me a bath. I saw that their health was good. It gave me hope I could be cured."

Tarun admitted that his first few days during the four-month treatment, the "withdrawal" period to wean him off drugs, had been tough and he felt unwell, "but my determination to be cured helped a lot."

The Narcotics Anonymous program that BARACA residents follow includes regular meetings of cured and recovering addicts in which they share their past and present sufferings, frustrations and hopes. Mohammad Jahangir, a BARACA educator, explained to UCA News, "When someone shares about his bad feelings, others counsel him and this helps in the healing process."

Holy Cross Brother Robi Purification, BARACA´s acting director, told UCA News on Sept. 29 that the physical work the center offers the residents also helps them "recover from their addiction."

Tarun is to return home for five days in the second week of October. He will then go to BARACA´s other center, in Dhaka, for one-month follow-up treatment in which he will be counseled on adjusting to family life.

According to Bakul Gomes, BARACA´s coordinator for education and therapy, the center has already treated 1,800 patients.

Tarun is determined to kick his drug habit. "BARACA has given me a new life, and I´d rather take poison and kill myself than take drugs now," he vowed.

Various sources cite different statistics, but they tend to agree Bangladesh has at least 2.5 million drug addicts. Many experts say drug addiction affects not only the young but every level of society, rich and poor alike.


(Accompanying photos available at here)