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Drug Addiction, Abuse and Dependence- Obscuring The Future Of Youngsters In Pakistan

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The growing use of drugs among youngsters is an undisputed fact globally. Drug addiction or abuse is the non-lenient consumption of harmful or life-threatening substances that can lead to physical or mental reliance. According to an estimate, almost 208 million people across the globe use illegal drugs, constituting 3.9 percent of the entire population. Moreover, 23 million people, above the age 12 are addicted to drugs globally, signifying how drug addiction is crippling the economic, social and moral edifice of communities at large.

Drug abuse is a taboo subject in Pakistan, where the middle or lower-middle-class families frown upon people consuming alcohol or drugs and hence go pear-shaped in providing their loved ones with the much needed emotional and mental navigation to quit these life-threatening substances. According to an estimate, almost 8.9 million people are addicted to drugs in Pakistan, a number that is increasing steadily. Moreover, almost 700 Pakistanis die each day due to drug-related complications, highlighting how the government has failed in addressing the increasing use of drugs among the masses.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction can be defined as a complex neurobiological disease which needs an integrated treatment of the mind, body and spirit. Drugs lead to changes in the structure and working of the brain and can have long-lasting consequences on the mental and physical heath of the abuser. Addiction to drugs is chronic and progressive in nature and if left untreated, can be fatal.

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There are numerous negative health implications of drugs abuse on the user such as continued drug use can deteriorate health, lead to withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, trembling, sweating, nausea or fatigue, loss of control over body, heart rate irregularities, insomnia and sleep disorders, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, respiratory problems, kidney and liver damage, seizures, stroke, brain damage and changes in appetite just to name a few. Other negative implications of drug abuse can include financial distress (losing a job, debt, dependence on family members), relationship problems (less social interaction with family or loved ones, tensions with loved ones), and legal issues (fines, jail sentences).

Some of the major reasons for drug addiction include lack of recreational and extra-curricular activities, the pressure to conform to societal norms, lack of acceptance by society and family, mental health concerns including, anxiety, depression etc., inclination to escape from everyday problems and peer pressure.

Teenagers- the most vulnerable to drug abuse in Pakistan?

The escalating number of young addicts in universities, colleges and schools is an alarming concern that requires immediate attention. According to a report by the Dawn, almost 67 percent university students in Pakistan use drugs. The widespread availability of drugs in universities have left young souls on the hands of these devastating substances that offer temporal relief with life-threatening consequences.

The most popular drugs among Pakistani teens include hash, crystal meth, weed, cocaine, ecstasy and alcohol. Moreover, the number of female addicts are much higher in comparison to males in Pakistan, who hesitate in seeking treatment due to the stigma attached to drug addiction.  Also, the availability of drugs and alcohol in education institutes are now just a call away. Contact details of these drug peddlers and dealers are readily available, making university students more susceptible to drug addiction.

According to a senior Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) officer, no formal researches or studies are available to highlight the increasing use of drugs among youngsters. He said that these claims of increasing drug addiction among youngsters i by researchers and academicians were based on the number of patients at different rehabilitation centers and hence were not ample to draw government attention.

Recently, the Minister of State for Interior, Shehryar Khan Afridi claimed almost 75 percent girls and 45 percent boys use crystal meth at some of the leading educational institutes in Islamabad. These figures coming from a top-notch government figure sparked undue controversy over social media platforms, where the minister was criticised for his “exaggerated and false” claim. Such impetuous statements by the minister highlights the non-serious attitude and approach of the government towards this grave matter at hand. Even if the claims are true, highlighting the stats won’t do the job, as the stakes are pretty high.

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Karachi ranks second in the list of cities that consume the most amount of Cannabis annually

Drug regulation Laws in Pakistan

The Drugs Act of 1976 regulates the manufacturing, dispersal, selling and storage of pharmaceutical drugs and prohibits the sale of certain drugs without doctor’s prescription. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has been established under the DRAP Act 2012 in order to facilitate coordination and enforcement of the Drugs Act, 1976 (XXXI of 1976) and works for the facilitation of inter-provincial trade and commerce of therapeutic goods.

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According to section 52 and 53 of Control of Narcotic Substances Act 1997, the responsibility of rehabilitation as well as registration of drug addict’s fall under the purview of the provincial government, however, the provinces have done little in this regard.

In May 2018, PPP MNA Shahida Rehmani tabled a bill at the national assembly titled “The Prevention of Drugs in Educational Institutions Act 2018”, demanding all educational institutes to conduct as well as pay for unannounced drug tests annually, entitling them to provide sufficient evidence to the government upon request. However already available international researches highlight drug testing as an “invasive exercise”. Drug testing needs an adequate amount of investment to confirm and reconfirm a range of substances and to rule out the chances of false positives. These conditions are definitely not favorable for education institutes in Pakistan who have limited amount of resources at hand.

Rehabilitation and treatment facilities up to the mark or not?

According to a report by the News, every year not more than 300 drug addicts can be treated simultaneously at leading hospitals in the country. Furthermore, public sector hospitals provide detoxification services to drug addicts and no rehabilitation services or medical treatments are available at the present moment. The Punjab government has directed all public sector hospitals to allocate eight beds to drug addicts at their premises.

Following the directives, the Institute of Psychiatry at Benazir Bhutto Hospital has allocated 10 beds to addicts, while Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences also provides limited amount of treatment facilities to addicts in their regions. Anti-Narcotics Force has also taken the lead and have established Model Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Centres (MATRCs) at Islamabad, Quetta, Sukkur, Peshawar and Karachi.

According to the findings of UNODC survey 2013, people seeking treatment for their addiction deemed private treatment centers better and more effective, while only 20 percent respondents expressed their trust over the governmental provisions. The results of the survey also indicated that a staggering 99.7 percent of respondents said the treatment was “expensive and out of reach”.

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Drug Use in Pakistan at Provincial level (UNODC Report, 2013)

Role of universities in curbing drug addiction

Universities and students can play a vital role in purging this menace collectively. Drug awareness seminars should be organized in collaboration with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, as an essential requisite of the academic year for all public and private sector education institutes. Moreover, different NGO’s and rehabilitation centers working with addicts should be invited to share drug success stories (youngsters who have successfully quit drugs) with university students, encouraging them to take the plunge. Special counselling departments should be established at education institutes, in order to provide guidance and assistance to students facing psychological and emotional turbulences (depression, anxiety and lack of attention of family members).

Substance abuse prevention programs a viable solution or not?

According to the national drug use surveys, prevention is the best strategy to save young teens from addiction. A similar substance abuse prevention programs can be implemented in Pakistan as well, where the government, NGO’s and education institutes can join hands and launch a comprehensive program for young addicts. Media can also play an effective role in educating the masses and can administer public campaigns, publicising important information such as early symptoms of drug use, what programmes are available for the rehabilitation of substance abusers and what centers are working for their assistance. Media can also help in reducing the misconceptions attached to drug abuse, encouraging addicts to seek professional help and assistance.

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Components of Comprehensive Drug Addiction or Substance Abuse Prevention Model

To Sum up…

We live in a collectivist society, where addiction to drugs is not an individual battle but one that the entire family deals with.  Family and friends can play a positive role,  as attention and affection from family members can save a number of youngsters from stepping into the euphoric world of drugs and addiction that leads to nowhere but darkness alone. Getting your children to talk is vital because researches indicate that teens who feel loved and supported are more likely to stop experimenting with drugs and can be convinced to seek professional help.

There are hundreds of people out there who have conquered their fears and personal demons, successfully quitting the world of drug like a lone warrior. Their incredible journeys are a constant source of hope and courage. Addiction begins with the hope that something ‘out there’ can instantly fill up the emptiness inside which is just a mistaken belief.  Mental, emotional and physical wellness is central to recovery from drug addiction because nothing in this world is impossible if you have the willpower and perseverance to face life challenges upfront.

 

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