AAdvertisements for goods and services are an indicator to measure their demand in a society. A few decades ago, the walls of Pakistan’s big cities were covered with advertisements of “spiritual” actors who claimed to help “conquer” one’s love through their magic.
With the increase in the penetration of cell phone services, people no longer rely on magic to find their friends, so the service is no longer in demand. Currently, one of the most sought-after services seems to be detoxification. This can be judged by the billboards in major cities in Pakistan offering help with addiction to ice cream, heroin and alcohol.
One cannot be sure either of the actual percentage of Pakistanis suffering from drug addiction or of the effectiveness of the treatment offered by these establishments. However, there is no doubt that substance abuse is a significant problem among our young people.
The introduction of vaping has facilitated the consumption of nicotine. It can be carried in a pocket or bag.
The drug landscape in Pakistan changed during the 1980s. jihad against the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in Afghanistan facilitated the availability of heroin and Kalashnikovs in Pakistan. The USSR eventually disintegrated, but the use of Pakistan as a route to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan to the rest of the world continued for at least another decade. Hard drugs are still available in Pakistan. Some of them are produced in Afghanistan.
According to a recent study, increased availability of drugs, peer pressure and exam performance (grade pressure) are some of the major factors contributing to drug prevalence among young people in Pakistan.
In 2018, a statement by a cabinet minister that 75% of students in educational institutions in Islamabad were using drugs caused much concern. Educational institutions were quick to deny this claim. This statement aside, Pakistan Social Science Journal recently published a study on the causes of drug abuse among university students in Pakistan. He estimated that 7.6 million people in Pakistan were drug addicts. According to this study, 78% of them were men and 22% women. The number is estimated to be increasing by around 40,000 per year. This study has also been disputed, and many have said that the number of drug addicts is overestimated.
Recent discussion of Covid-19 in Pakistan ignores a potential link between socio-economic and societal stresses induced in these unusual times and drug use. The 2021 report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) explains the impact of Covid and drug trafficking globally.
Global drug sales have nearly quadrupled since 2017, from $80 million to $315 million. The report also states that the impact of Covid has led to an expansion of the drug economy through larger shipments, the use of private jets, the use of ocean freight and the contactless delivery of drugs to end users. The report says that if trends continue, 43% of the population in low-income countries could be at risk of drug use by 2030.
The recent discussion of Covid-19 in Pakistan ignores the link between socio-economic tensions and drug use. The report published by UNODC explains the impact of Covid and drug trafficking on a global level.
Numbers aside, the mere fact that overall drug prevalence has increased in countries like Pakistan is worrying. There seems to be a lack of checks from the family, societal and institutional levels. As a nation, we have entered a self-sacrificing mode, not accepting that our young people are drawn to narcotics.
Drug abuse now takes a heavy toll on young people from all socio-economic backgrounds. They’re ditching old-school heroin and hash for new stuff, like ice cream and some liquid narcotics they can mix into their vapes. “The use of vapes among young people is considered a status symbol. Those who don’t take it are seen as left behind,” said a teenager I met in Rawalpindi during my last visit to Pakistan.
I also spoke to the principal of a prestigious private college in Islamabad who admitted in a private conversation that it was extremely difficult to control the use of vapes on college premises. However, he did not alert the parents because he feared giving his institute a bad reputation and losing the students.
Teachers (at all levels) can play an effective role in keeping their campuses drug-free by organizing awareness campaigns and weekend camps with certified public and private health experts to educate young people about the dangers of drugs. Additionally, parents should give consent for their children to be randomly tested to see if they have taken drugs. This can be done by screening hair follicles or testing urine for drugs.
However, this cannot be left entirely to teachers; parents and family members must also play their part. They need to support their children so that they don’t resort to drugs to escape their worries and stresses. Also, parents should keep in mind that not all behavioral changes are associated with puberty.
As parents, we should talk with the child instead of shaming them for any mental and physical inability to perform. As a society, we try to avoid talking about the depression and stress that our children face. This leaves them vulnerable to drug use common among their peers and now available by home delivery.
Instead of giving the right answers to the wrong questions, we need to ask the right questions and find their answers. It is necessary to identify the root cause of anxiety, depression and tension in young people. Parents should be vigilant and children’s behavior should be discussed at parent-teacher meetings.
Finally, the sale and provision of non-smoking tobacco and vaping, etc.., should be regulated just like the shisha centers in Pakistan. In addition, trained psychologists/psychiatrists should be appointed in all colleges and universities. They can provide knowledgeable and reliable support for young people to get off drugs and do a better job than the private drug addiction clinics that now proliferate in our big cities.
The writer is an audience policy specialist and non-resident research scholarship holder at the SDPI, currently lives in Germany. She can be contacted at [email protected]