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"Peer-Led Drug De-Addiction Initiatives in India: An Empowering Journey for an Identity" by Alexander Hitch, Volunteer Nada India

A report prepared with the support of Mr. Suneel Vatsyayan, Chairman Nada India Foundation 

Chicago, Illinois
April 18, 2014

      I was first introduced to the therapeutic community modality supported by the Nada India Foundation in the late summer of 2011. During that summer I had been living and working in Delhi as an interim teacher at a local school. My host family, who were wonderfully welcoming and generous, introduced me to local leaders in the community development world, which eventually led to a meeting with Suneel Vatsyayan.

      Needless to say, from my first interaction with Mr. Vatsyayan and the Nada India Foundation, I was greatly impressed with its scope of services, and admired the commitment to its mission. Through our first discussions, Mr. Vatsyayan and I both realized our ability to tackle a common goal. I had been trained as an historian in graduate school, and he was hoping to share the story of the peer-led treatment method's growth since its inception in the late 1980s.

      The creation and completion of this report was a very drawn-out process, most notably because life and geography interfered. But the story and efforts of the many people I met in the therapeutic communities still resonate. This report is meant to chronicle their steadfast and exemplary efforts, and their countless, selfless actions. It is also meant to provide a synopsis to outside groups that perhaps do not understand the history and growth of the therapeutic community modality, and the assistance it provides not only to addiction treatment, but also to the undermanned and often overwhelmed healthcare delivery system in India.

      For a full version of the text, please visit the Nada India website by clicking here. There you will find a pdf available for download. Below you will find the report's introduction.

      I truly enjoyed the process of completing this report, and I hope that your reading finds it informative, uplifting, and engaging as well.

Alexander Hitch
Volunteer, Nada India Foundation


The overcast September skies of Delhi clouded the entrance to the therapeutic community “Nai Kiran,” complementing the damp smell of a fresh rain and the faint scent of the flowers hanging from our necks. As we sat onto our noticeably worn, plastic chairs, I glanced over to a fellow panel discussant as he barked out in a hardened, raspy voice, “hello family,” to the forty odd members of the community. Each responded effortlessly, in unison, and without hesitation, “hello guru.” These members, known to society as drug and alcohol addicts, sat pretzel-legged on a large, worn oriental carpet in columns that resembled a military formation, and gazed attentively toward the group of us that sat facing them. The conversation flowed without one batting an eye or questioning a statement of us in the front, or of one another. I was introduced as an historian from Chicago, visiting the therapeutic community to narrate the link between the current peer-led treatment centers, and their humble beginning many years before. As we exited the main hall after our discussion had concluded, I spoke to individual members regarding their experience. I observed that through much of the pent up emotion – a characteristic of a zero-tolerance, holistic approach to drug and alcohol treatment – there exists a unique warmth and compassion towards one another. Indeed, this type of peer-led treatment bases itself on a community to assist one another through discussion, addiction therapy, relapse, and eventual de-addiction.

As a Westerner, my initial understanding of drug abuse in the developing world was, admittedly, non-existent. During my time in India, however, I was exposed to the range of difficulties that afflict nations undergoing major social and economic tumult, such as India. Remarkably, many of their solutions are inexpensive and effective in combating the societal ailments caused by drug and alcohol abuse. An example of this ingenuity is the peer-led, former-addict directed therapeutic community model supported by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association India Foundation (Nada India), a non-profit co-founded by an Indian native, Suneel Vatsyayan, and American psychiatrist and acupuncturist Dr. Michael O. Smith. Mr. Vatsyayan is a practicing social worker and relationship counselor by trade, and was the co-founder and Director of the non-governmental organization (NGO), the “Delhi Police Foundation for Correction, De-Addiction & Rehabilitation” (also known as the “Navjyoti”), in many ways the precursor to the Nada India supported therapeutic communities (TC). From this beginning in the late 1980s, this particular TC treatment modality has grown into a network of rehabilitation centers known as the Association of Recovering Peoples Action Network (ARPAN). This network of therapeutic communities are run by recovered addicts who each have learned counseling and NGO management, but also possess a unique ability to connect with the recovering members as personal survivors of drug addiction.

The tendency of medicine in the past several decades has been to “privilege expert, large-scale, technical, and technocratic approaches to problems which are often social in nature.” Indeed, biomedical approaches can often deemphasize the social dynamics of addiction, especially in India. But this report does not assert the false presumption that medication and pharmacological treatments are inadequate. On the contrary, they are very often integral to the recovery of many addicts. The general understanding of addiction, however, must evolve in order to help change the outlook of government agencies, funding sources, and society at-large. To eliminate this disconnect, we must do-away with the notion that addiction carries with it a behavioral component or learned habit that must be forced out of the patient by simply, “being tough.” Thus, illuminating the accessible and effective resources and services available for those either impacted or vulnerable to drug abuse and its effects in India is of great importance.

At its heart, however, this report chronicles the history of how the therapeutic community treatment modality has grown and evolved since its first steps with Mr. Vatsyayan at the Delhi Police Foundation. The success of these peer-led treatment centers and continued growth of the TC treatment modality amid persecution and stigmatization, insufficient funding, and lack of government assistance, is truly remarkable. But this report is also meant to serve as a history for those whose humble and selfless actions are often overlooked, and who act as the human infrastructure that fills a gap in a woefully inadequate healthcare delivery system. They unmistakably deserve recognition for their steadfast support of one another.


  1. I was introduced to the therapeutic community Delhi Police Foundation in Jan 2000 in Delhi, the ancient capital of India. As a psychiatrist, I have visited many such programs in the US. Usually they are based on a certain philosophical theme and display a certain pride of knowing how to improve living and make a profit by doing so. These therapeutic communities never forget how to use their clients to help empower and enrich the treatment facility. Delhi Police Foundation shows a wholly different reality. It is based on reality and is therefore to cope with the most real of all ailments, narcotic addiction. I entered Delhi Police Foundation by walking through an active police complete with rifles and prison cells. The program was on the top floor and the roof. There was no prideful control or exploitation of client labor. I had never seen such clearly honest program or such a useful and valuable picture of the addict’s real world. Delhi Police Foundation was famous throughout India, and had a uniquely high success rate.
    In might professional career I have never seen a treatment program with such clear integrity. Appearances can be deceiving as we all know. Delhi Police Foundation has a matchless record of success, because dozens of graduates have set up independent therapeutic communities. These programs have not received any start-up funds. They all have similar but independent philosophies. This level of mature success is unequalled in any part of the world. The fact that it occurs in a poor developing country like India makes this reality even more compelling.
    Alex Hitch is a young American working in India for another purpose. He was wise enough to recognize this Delhi Police Foundation a graduate reality which is now known as the ARPAN association of programs. Hitch spent long term learning from the primary Delhi Police Foundation’s founding director, Suneel Vatsyayan, and has written a long essay on their whole treatment phenomenon---which is unparalleled in our world of addiction and recovery. We should all be grateful to Alex Hitch for providing this portrait of human achievement.

  2. Get Ayurvedic medicines for de-addiction of alcohol in Punjab at reasonable cost. just call on our number and get the detailed information on ayurvedic medicines.


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