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`More children turning addicts’

Saturday 7 May 2005, by KANNAN*Ramya

`The majority come from the lower socio-economic groups’

CHENNAI: Child psychiatrists here have expressed concern over the rising number of children who are addicted to sniffing liquid/volatile solvents.

At the T.T.Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation, a de-addiction and rehabilitation centre in the city, the psychiatrists have noted the increasing number of children coming in with classic signs of addiction, even acute psychotic distress. Investigations reveal that the children have formed addictions to sniffing commonly available solvents.

Anita Rao, Foundation medical director and child psychiatrist, says the numbers have been increasing over the last five years.

``Earlier, we used to get stray cases, but over the last five years, there is definitely a steady increase."

Parents bring children in with behavioural problems, red eyes, slurred speech, inability to focus, using foul language, physical violence and stagnation in mental and sometimes physical growth too. While this phenomenon is predominantly noticed among the youth, during which the experience is vivid and striking, it remains an addiction and leads to other, perhaps more " fatal habits ," Suresh Kumar, a psychiatrist who has worked with those suffering from addiction, says.

"The majority of children come from the lower socio-economic groups, largely children who go to Corporation or Government schools, but we’ve had some cases from high-income families as well. And 99 per cent of them are boys," says Dr. Rao.

With solvents being available for as low as Rs.8 to Rs.10 a bottle, they are easily accessible to even poor children.

"These substances are used commonly in daily life. In addition, their "danger" is not perceived as high as say, ganja or alcohol," Dr. Suresh Kumar explains.

Paul Sunder Singh of Karunalaya, an organisation working among street children in North Chennai, admits that it is becoming a major trend among the group in the area.

Dr. Rao says that the exact problem may be much bigger. "If we see one case here, in our referral centre, there are probably a 100 people experimenting with the substances in the community."

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