A community-based drug rehabilitation programme: a project of the Diocese of Karachi, Church of Pakistan
The official number of heroin users in Pakistan was 1.5 million in 1994. 80% of the West’s heroin now comes through Pakistan, with Karachi as the main city for shipments. The opium from which the heroin is made is grown along the Afghan border (the Golden Crescent). In Karachi about one in six adult males uses heroin. Despite being illegal, drugs are cheap to buy and in many parts of the city are used openly on the streets. Part of the problem is the lack of a sense of purpose among so many young men. Boredom and frustration cause many to turn to heroin.
Foreign governments are assisting in programmes to introduce substitute crops. The law and order agencies try to prevent distribution. However, the enormous profits make their work very difficult. Hospital detoxification is provided for addicts on a limited basis, but there is little follow-up and a high rate of relapse.
Ibtida has been working with drug addicts since 1984. Ibtida is Urdu for beginning. The programme helps people of all faiths to come off drugs, believing the best way to stay drugfree is through transformed lives. The government and private sector place their emphasis on providing detoxification services. Ibtida offers a new approach to drug abuse, emphasising community-based rehabilitation and a spiritual response to their message of repentance. ‘We find that more and more addicts respond to our message of repenting from the sin of drug taking, whether they are Christian, Muslim or Hindu,’ says Philip Simpson. ‘We pray in Jesus’ name and people recognise the power of his name, whatever their own faith.’ Many who have come off drugs with Ibtida say that prayer is more powerful than medicine. ‘We know that most drug addicts will stop taking drugs for a short while, and then start taking drugs again. We aim to work with people until they are strong in their new life.’
Most people come off heroin at home. There needs to be three people to take someone through the initial trauma of withdrawal…
One who desires – the addict himself, who must want to come off drugs.
One who watches – a member of the addict’s family who is prepared to be with him 24 hours a day
One who helps – a worker or volunteer who has come off drugs, who knows the pain and the feelings experienced because he has made the same journey.
But as all addicts know, the task is not completed just by coming off heroin. A new life has to take shape in which drug taking plays no part. There are five aspects to the Ibtida programme:
Deliverance Addicts are visited in their community to search out those who are serious about giving up. Withdrawal is usually home based and done without medication (cold turkey). Ibtida also runs quarterly withdrawal camps.
Discipline Addicts are encouraged to attend follow-up meetings regularly for three months, where they receive both social and spiritual help. There is a monthly ‘ladies’ meeting for female relatives of drug addicts to support and encourage them. Individuals are encouraged to set goals and plan their use of time. Drug-free ‘birthdays’ are celebrated with small gifts – at one month, three months, six months and a year. A new idea has been the 90 day Intensive Recovery Group, run on a day centre basis.
Discipleship Individuals are placed into small groups ‘cell groups’ for learning and sharing from the Bible and each other and for one-to-one counselling. They are later encouraged to accompany the field workers on home visits. This is important, as they learn from their experiences – workers are training more workers. The testimony of someone who has just come off drugs is also very important. Addicts will think, ‘If he can do it, so can I’.
Dissemination Information about drug rehabilitation is shared by giving talks to various groups and by producing leaflets, booklets and a magazine in Urdu – Payyam-e-Ibtida – from our low-cost resource centre.
Development A network of contacts – DAWN, the Drug Addiction Workers Network – is developing with other groups in Pakistan for mutual support and encouragement. There is a training camp once a year for addicts and volunteers.
Apart from the camps, Ibtida’s work is all community based. Unlike residential centres, they are able to distribute their resources among a large number of people, so that when addicts are ready to respond positively, they already have some involvement with the project.
Since its beginning, Ibtida has established contact with thousands of addicts. In 1993 it worked with about 750 individuals. Of these, 250 were off heroin, about 100 were off all drugs and over 50 had been drug-free for between six months and nine years. Our hopes for the future are to see:
- a project in every diocese
- a worker in every parish
- a teacher in every school, teaching awareness of drug abuse.’
Though Ibtida is a tiny group facing an enormous problem, they are optimistic. We have a saying in Urdu, ‘Diye se diya jelao’ – ‘One light lights another.’
Philip and Rachel Simpson are CMS Mission Partners who have worked with Ibtida for nine years. Ibtida, PO Box 10433, Karachi 75530, Pakistan