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Negative perception derails drug addicts’ recovery

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 (Bernama) — The society harbours a negative perception on drug addicts who use methadone to recover from their addiction, believing that methadone is another dangerous drug. This negative perception and lack of support from their surroundings may push these addicts, who are trying hard to turn themselves around, into relapse. Sadly, the scenario is all too common, said Universiti Malaya’s Psychiatric Consultant Dr Muhamad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari. He said the societal awareness on the methods of handling drug addiction was still low, including using methadone as an opioid drug replacement therapy. Poor understanding of treatment available Dr Muhammad Muhsin said many former addicts lamented on the difficulty in gaining employment despite overcoming their addiction through methadone. “Many harbour misconception on methadone, including it is detrimental as heroin. This makes employers fearful and hesitant in employing someone on the treatment,” he told Bernama. He said it was evident that addicts undergoing the drug replacement therapy, particularly those who were not hardcore addicts in the first place, could go on to lead normal lives. They had no problems working or having a family. However, they would benefit tremendously from societal support as it would help them increase their confidence and motivation. “Just like those suffering from chronic diseases, they would need medication for the rest of their lives,” said Dr Muhamad Muhsin. He said recovering addicts needed methadone to overcome their addiction just as those suffering from diabetes needed lifelong medication to prevent kidney disease, risk of leg amputation and others, he said. Looking out for best treatment Malaysia, just like other countries in the world, is always on the lookout for the best form of treatment for drug addiction. Numerous research have been conducted on the subject, especially on the international front. The best form of treatment has been found to be community-based, as it helped addicts go through the recovery process holistically. Societal inclusivity and acceptance during the recovery process encourages an addict to remain sober and motivates them to rebuild their lives. Agreeing with the approach, Dr Muhamad Muhsin agreed said the treatment approach proved to be more effective than segregating them at rehabilitation centres. Therefore, conducting the rehabilitation process at mosques such as done under the Spiritual Enhancement Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Programme (SEDAR) is one of the best methods of treatment. Not only does it open up the channel for better communication between recovering addicts and society, but it also helps in correcting existing negative perceptions. Importance of social inclusivity Society needs to take the first step in approaching addicts undergoing treatment as the latter usually has trouble socialising and establishing ties with the community. The regimented life in rehabilitation centres have denied them the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to survive in a social environment. “A year in rehab would mean a year being excluded from society. When they leave the facility, they would realise they lacked the ability to integrate with society. This would result in the feeling of segregation and inevitably lead to them returning to their old ways that they were familiar with,” he explained. Not the solution Looking at addiction through the legal angle alone would not help, Dr Muhamad Muhsin said. Although laws and regulations were important, a better form of intervention would include the integration of medical aid as well. “We want to help them to not only reintegrate into society but contribute towards the betterment of themselves and the community as well. “We found the usage of methadone, aided by family support, contributing tremendously in achieving the purpose,” he said. Dr Muhamad Muhsin who is also a researcher at the University Malaya Centre for Addiction Sciences (UMCAS) is currently finalizing the research on the efficacy of treatment at rehabilitation centres. He said preliminary findings of the research revealed that what was more important for addicts was not only the medical and psychological help, but aid in rebuilding their lives after leaving the facility as well. “Many of them are not being helped holistically upon leaving the facility. When their family refuses to accept them and they start living on the fringes of the society, they would inevitably return to old friends and old habits,” he said. The research compares four methods of drug rehabilitation; those undergoing medical treatment only, those undergoing psychotherapy only, those undergoing a combination of medical and holistic treatment and those without any form of treatment. Continual help needed “The combination of medical and holistic aid seem to be the most effective in preventing a relapse,” he said. In the research, the group in which addicts were provided a place to stay, a job and medication upon leaving the rehabilitation centre were found to be more successful in rebuilding their lives. “Many were able to survive longer than two or three months before needing to return to the rehabilitation centres,” he said. The society should adopt a paradigm shift that accepts addiction as a disease and therefore the problem could be addressed more effectively. “Don’t seclude them. It has been proven that they are ways to treat them. This is no longer impossible, what is needed is the support of their family, friends and society,” he said.