July 25, 2023
By Nadeem Khan
26-year-old Khalida*, a resident of Quetta, has been struggling with a meth (ice) and heroin addiction for the past three years. Khalida, as well as other women like her, are unable to find the support she needs to get clean as the entire province of Balochistan lacks drug rehabilitation centers.
Moreover, female addicts often resort to their own sexual exploitation in order to acquire drugs.
“I did not start using of my own volition,” she told Voicepk.net.
“My husband did drugs. I used to teach at a school back then and he would insist that I share with him. He got it in his head that I’d leave him over this so he ordered me to do it too. I said no, and he beat me up. He forced me to use.”
After her divorce, she moved next to an open storm drain where addicts usually hung about.
“I continued with my job while I still had the strength, buying drugs with my own money. But then I didn’t have it in me anymore. I got my supply somehow or another, usually through friends who I would use with,” Khalida related. “Other women can do much more for drugs, things that they wouldn’t do under any circumstances but are forced to.”
The Social Welfare Department Balochistan established a 250-bed rehabilitation institution in Quetta in 2009. According to official data, a total of 6,970 male addicts have completed their treatment from this center till date. Furthermore, over 20 private rehab clinics are operating in the provincial capital.
Although there are separate wards and staff for female patients, they are still bereft of treatment facilities. Around 20 women have been given treatment in their homes where even the men were users.
Hanif Rind, an administrator at the Rehabilitation Center Quetta, stated that addiction, especially among women, is on the rise due to easy access and availability of drugs as well as psychological vulnerabilities. Furthermore, the center is unable to fulfil the care and treatment of many female patients due to a severe dearth in funding.
“Nearly 70 percent of patients addicted to ice and heroin are brought to us. Ice is a relatively new drug, so we are seeing a rapid rise in ice addiction among the youth and women,” he said. “In a more recent case, the entire family including the children – the daughters and the wife were all involved. Because of financial constraints, we unfortunately cannot admit every patient.”
Rind stated that the facility indeed has female staffers and separate quarters which are, however, currently not under use.
“We are in contact with the [Social Welfare] Department and the Government of Balochistan to perhaps utilize the women’s quarters. We have talked to multiple international organizations in this regard as well, and I am hopeful that we will be able to make further progress soon.”
Balochistan’s deeply rooted tribal culture poses even more difficulties for addict women in accessing treatment, forcing them to keep it a secret and deterring them from seeking any professional help at all.
Dr. Fauzia Tabassum, a psychologist with over 15 years of professional practice, has helped dozens of women to quit drugs. She is currently providing counselling with the aid of an NGO. She said that often women fall prey to drugs due to psychological stress.
“Most female addicts that I have provided counselling to were usually suffering from a childhood trauma. Most of my clients were survivors of sexual abuse,”
she said. “They suffered the abuse when they were little girls, or were blackmailed or had their heart broken as teenagers. They were the most susceptible to drug addiction wherever and whenever they could find a favorable environment.”
She added that she has seen around 40 female patients in the past four years who became addicted at an early age or who were open to trying drugs.
Dr. Fauzia explained that sometimes women under the influence of drugs are sexually exploited, adding that centers should be established where female addicts can be treated in a safe and conducive environment.
“Female addicts are lured with the promise of drugs in exchange for sexual favors,” she said. “While rehabilitation centers should be established, we should also work towards erasing the stigma over wanting to seek help for addiction.”
Supportive, child-friendly environments, access to psychiatric and psychological health services, and awareness-building on the prevalence of addiction, and establishment of rehabilitation centers for women are all steps that can save the lives, including Khalida’s.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy