Hyderabad: In late June last year, B. Ashok Kumar (58), was found hanging in the bathroom of a rehabilitation centre in the city where he was admitted for treatment of alcoholism.
According to information his relatives gathered later, and from what little he had told them before his death, it came out that Ashok, like many other inmates of the centre, was tortured whenever he cried out in pain unable to handle his withdrawal symptoms.
If employees of some other rehab centres in the city are to be believed, torture is quite normal when patients exhibit withdrawal symptoms. The functioning of a large number of rehabilitation/de-addiction centres is now under the scanner, with authorities beginning inspections on several shady centres in the city.
K. Anand of Kukatpally says he had a harrowing time at another de-addiction centre in the city. “We were treated worse than criminals. I was put in dark room for a month, stuffed along with others like cattle into a small room, even beaten with pipes whenever we asked for proper facilities,” Anand said. He also alleged that he was not allowed to meet his relatives even once during his stay at the centre.
“I once slit my wrist thinking they will let me speak with my relatives at least then. I sometimes felt it would have been better had they put me in a jail instead of a de-addiction centre,” he says.
R Rajendra Prasad, father of a former addict, who is now waging a campaign against de-addiction centres says those admitted to these centres ‘already have a problem’. “Why should we hurt them further? My son and many others were locked in dark rooms for days together, beaten, abused, and were kept away from their families,” he said, adding that, “Some centres have a licence for 15 or 30 beds, but they admit over 100 people.”
Meanwhile, following orders from Director of Medical Education M. Ramani recently, officials from the Institute of Mental Health, Erragadda, began inspections of centres which were suspected of torturing inmates or functioning without necessary permissions.
“Earlier, we had no permission from the government to inspect these places,” says Dr. Uma Shankar, Superintendent, Institute of Mental Health, adding that it was difficult to stop unauthorised de-addiction centres because even if their license was cancelled, they would start a new centre with a new name in a different place.
Inspections by officials revealed that many of the centres were flouting guidelines framed by the Social Justice and Empowerment department under the The Mental Health Act, 1987 and State Mental Health Rules, 1990. The inspections have forced many centres to shut down, albeit temporarily, another official says, adding that the government should constitute a committee to define minimum standards and draft a stringent policy for registration of rehabilitation centres.
Many centres do not even have a qualified psychiatrists to treat addicts and they get away because of lack of effective monitoring mechanisms, he says.