Mukta Puntambekar has had a unique childhood. Her mother, Late Dr Anita Awachat, was a psychiatrist who used to work at the Yerwada Mental Hospital. As a child, Puntambekar and her family lived close to the mental hospital. “I used to play with the patients in the mental hospital as a child. They just had mental disorders that can be treated but I never grew up with a stigma. My mother used to respect them as human beings and even made sure they lived in hygienic conditions,” she recalls. She is the Project Director at Muktangan, a rehabilitation and de-addiction centre that recently completed 30 years in Pune.
After treating more than 20,000 patients since years, the organisation has now planned to open up facilities in the district of Tarn Taran in Punjab. “Around 80 per cent of the patients that come here are addicted to alcohol while the remaining 20 per cent are addicted to drugs and other substances. The patients come from all over Maharashtra and from India and belong to a mixed socio-economic background. The youngest patient to be admitted in Muktangan is 13 years old and the oldest patient is 80. I am noticing that the average age is reducing,” states Puntambekar while speaking of the rehabilitation centre that was started by her parents. Addiction and drug reliance is a huge problem globally which leads many to seek out help in the form of centres like Lux Rehabs who have various locations internationally.
Neeraj has spent the last 12 years recovering from multiple substance addiction. The journey hasn’t been easy for him. “I lost everything including my family relations and my studies were left incomplete. During that time, I was in denial. I used to cry every night under influence and vow to stop doing drugs the next day. But, it was never possible for me. Because of my addiction, I got into criminal activities. At the age of 19, I was a chronic addict of various substances. I came to Muktangan and stayed for the five-week treatment because I realised that I needed help. I was asked to write a diary and share my emotions with others as much as I could. I was aware that a relapse is possible and after two years of sobriety, I went back to my old ways. I came back to Muktangan for the second time and stayed back for the following four years. I started working here itself and began with housekeeping.” Today, Neeraj is the Head of the Awareness Department at Muktangan.
To tackle the drug problem in parts of Punjab, Puntambekar feels that the approach to de-addiction, sensitisation and advocacy changes since the culture there is very different. “Drinking alcohol is a very common phenomenon as it is prepared in every household there. In Punjab, the withdrawal symptoms are more severe amongst the people as the drugs are not adulterated. In Maharashtra, the brown sugar is more adulterated. We must understand people’s expectations and we have to think how we can adapt ourselves medically in a place like Punjab,” she adds.
Located in Yerwada, the rehab centre is known for being managed by recovered and recovering substance users who constitute about 75 per cent of the staff. Madhav Kolhatkar feels a renewed vigour of doing something in the field of addiction since his experience with it helped him discover himself again. Since seven years, he has been working as a counsellor with the centre, where he came earlier to seek help for his addiction to alcohol.
“I wasted 18 years of my life that I’m not going to get back. I’ve had to rebuild myself. I had to redevelop relations with my parents. This whole journey helped me find myself and get an identity. From being a useless alcoholic to someone whom people love to talk to, I have regained people’s trust,” he signs off with a calm look on his face.
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