How methadone saved Islam from drug addiction
As part of the Global Fund grant, UNDP provides methadone substitute treatment and other services to prevent the spread of HIV among people who inject drugs.
“Methadone helped me get back on my feet and walk forward. It’s the only way I found out of drug addiction,” says Islam, as he takes his daily medicine from the nurse he’s come to get to know well. Islam now has a job, a wife, and a healthy four-year-old son.
Islam has been on the methadone substitute treatment for 13 years already. Methadone is a legal synthetic drug provided for free by the Global Fund grant to around 1,000 patients in Kyrgyzstan on a daily basis. It doesn’t create euphoria in its users, but fulfills the feeling of need and erases any pain created by addiction and absence of drugs, meaning patients who use methadone are completely conscious, healthy, and can live a normal life.
“I don’t know where I would be without methadone”
Islam became addicted to heroin at the age of 15, and couldn’t stop, regardless of how hard he tried. This put him in difficult life situations, until he heard about methadone in 2007. Islam now drinks the medicine every morning at an authorized clinic, and goes on with his life without any changes in his attitude or health.
“For most people suffering from drug addiction, there are only three roads to take: methadone, prison or death,” says Islam. He smiles from ear to ear as he logs into his computer at work, sipping a cup of coffee. Islam is now a peer consultant for people who inject drugs and promotes methadone among clients.
Taking methadone means that patients no longer use syringes, which are a source of HIV infection, don’t suffer from euphoria or pain from the withdrawal syndrome, don’t risk any overdose and don’t need to find money to buy their dose. Islam says: “Methadone allows you to stop using drugs and go back to your normal life. I don’t know where I would be today without it.”
Living a normal life under methadone
“People who take methadone, unlike other drugs, are completely conscious. They can even drive,” explains Aibek Duishenaliev, coordinator of this project at the Republican Center for Narcology.
Every day in Kyrgyzstan, around 1000 people, including over 80 women, receive the methadone substitute treatment and stay away from other drugs. The Global Fund purchases methadone as part of its HIV prevention program. Patients who receive methadone also benefit from other services, such as regular testing for HIV and TB, medical consultations and support from social workers/peer navigators.
“Drug addiction is a chronic disease that’s very difficult to treat. Patients who take methadone are people who have been using drugs for a very long time. They all have problems: some don’t have a job, some live in the streets, some have problems with their family, some are in jail… The methadone program is a free help to people who, in a majority of cases, have nothing at all,” says Aibek Duishenaliev.
Thanks to the methadone program, there is also less criminality among people who use drugs. Most used to spend around $100 dollars per day on drugs, says Aibek Duishenaliev, when the average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan is of just $230. This means many people steal or use violence to get their dose. “Addiction and withdrawal syndrome are so strong that you don’t think about anything else, you don’t think about the consequences,” explains Islam. Thankfully, methadone is entirely free for its users.
Giving hope to others
For those who do not want to switch to the methadone substitute treatment, the Global Fund provides free syringes, along with disinfecting wipes, medicine in case of overdose and condoms, to keep them safe in all circumstances. These are provided to almost 16000 people country-wise. Outreach workers help clients get diagnosis for HIV, TB and other diseases, share their personal stories of how they stopped using drugs and tell them about the methadone treatment.
“Communities play a very important role to end HIV,” says Aibek Duishenaliev. “People who have overcome their drug addiction, for example, can share their stories, explain what they’ve been through, how they’ve changed. They can give hope to others and show that there is a way out of this situation. They can give them a reason to fight for and help them find a meaning to life.”
According to a recent UNAIDS report, 95% of new HIV infections globally still happen within key groups of the population (sex workers, people who inject drugs, LGBT), that the Global Fund actively involves in all of its programs.
In Kyrgyzstan, HIV used to be spread mostly within the community of people who inject drugs, but with these two programs implemented by the Global Fund, this has changed. In 2019, 86 people were infected with HIV through the use of syringes, vs. 445 in 2009. Currently, HIV is mostly contracted through sexual relationships.
Aibek Duishenaliev adds: “Thanks to the Global Fund, our clients get syringes, methadone and/or HIV treatment for free. In other countries people just die because they can’t find a solution. I hope the Global Fund will continue working in Kyrgyzstan.”
The UNDP has been successfully implementing the Global Fund to eradicated AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis grant in the Kyrgyz Republic since 2011. This includes purchasing quality drugs for the treatment of HIV and TB, improving diagnosis methods, and involving communities in the prevention of these diseases.