Many have questioned, and rightly so, the statistical credibility of the claims made by Shehryar Afridi, the state minister for interior, that 75 percent of female and 45 percent of male students in Pakistan’s capital city are using ice or crystal meth (short for methamphetamine). Had this been the case, we would have been in the middle of social chaos in the form of a high percentage of failing students, crime and a health crisis with addicts overflowing psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities.
These figures, although not completely accurate for reasons, however should not be disregarded altogether. We need to look at the bigger picture: that illegal recreational drugs have insidiously become a part of our society, especially among our teens and young adults.
Reportedly, crystal meth is sold in toffee wrappers in school canteens to young students in Islamabad. While this might be absurd for some, no one can deny the flagrant transportation, sale and use of illegal drugs within Islamabad and surroundings. Hashish (charas) is as common as table salt and allegedly sold with the complicity of cops.
Opioids such as morphine and psychotherapeutic drugs like Xanax are readily available to young medical students who consume and often maintain the supply chain in their social circle. Ecstasy pills, which create an illusion of happiness, are a prerequisite for trendy indoor parties. Moreover, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that more than 800,000 Pakistanis between the age of 15 and 64 are heroin addicts.
That 75 percent of the female students smoke something as dangerous as crystal meth may seem somewhat exaggerated, but we need to get out of our self-imposed state of denial when it comes to women and drugs.
Methamphetamine finds itself on the list of the most expensive recreational drugs. These are surely something that such a large proportion of students cannot afford. But even if a quarter of the claims made by the interior minister turn out to be true, then a potential national health crisis can be easily expected in the not so distant future.
Ice or crystal meth is mostly inhaled or insufflated and can also be injected into the body where it stimulates the brain to create euphoria — the only desired effect by the abuser. Meth is also an aphrodisiac and increases one’s libido (sexual drive) while compromising one’s judgement. Thus, meth addicts are more likely to engage in sexual activities with multiple partners. That then leads to the danger of unsafe sex, including the risk of contracting the HIV virus. This is also true for when the same needle is shared by multiple ice abusers; this too can result in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Crystal meth abuse for several days straight leaves a person fatigued and lethargic and with the very feeling he/she was trying to avoid – depression and isolation. Weight loss, dry mouth, tooth decay and loss, blurred vision, dizziness, memory loss, hallucinations and psychosis are other common adverse effects. Overdose can be fatal as it is associated with increased risk of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, seizure, and coma.
Using methamphetamine, or any other addictive drug for that matter, for the first time is like lying on a bed of roses while being oblivious to the many thorns piercing the body. Once the state of ‘high’ and ‘happiness’ (roses) associated with meth usage is experienced, it becomes impossible to appreciate its ill effects (thorns) and the abuser keeps on returning to the high state (roses) – eventually becoming an addict. Thus it becomes difficult to break this vicious addictive cycle, especially in countries like Pakistan because of the stigma which haunts the abuser’s path from home to hospital, and which mostly ends only after death.
Meth addiction should not be taken as a moral inadequacy of the abuser. It is a mental disease just like any physical disorder (diabetes, hypertension etc.) and therefore it is upon family and friends to help addicts find proper treatment centres.
The ‘icey’ declaration that young students in Islamabad are using ice or methamphetamine has shocked many people. This current situation warrants our immediate attention and an urgent city-wide study of the federal capital to determine the true extent of this crisis.
Unlike hashish or cocaine which are grown in certain areas, the production of meth is free from such specificity and can be produced anywhere in a lab as it requires a chemical process. Destroy these labs, make an example of the perpetrators, cut down meth import to Pakistan and organise drug education programmes at school and university levels. Only then can we save our impressionable youth from the unforgiving whirlpool of ice addiction.
The writer is a doctor based in Islamabad. Twitter: @drkhalidshab
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