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June 26, 2015

Addiction continues to be on the rise among Pakistani youth


June 26, 2015

A significant portion of Pakistan’s population has been suffering from devastating effects of substance abuse and the percentage in on the rise because of a number of factors ranging from easy access to drugs to socio-economic imbalance in society.
Studies reveal that nearly 6 per cent of the country’s population that means not less than 6.7 million adults are using drugs of which 78 per cent are men and 22 per cent are women. It is estimated that majority of drug users in Pakistan are between the age of 25 and 39 years. Men are more likely to use cannabis and opiates, while prescription drugs abuse is dominated by women. Intravenous drug use is also considerably high, with 430,000 people estimated to be injecting drugs in Pakistan.
“Over the years, lack of policies and weak border management has made Pakistan a transhipment point for 40 per cent of the most addictive poppy derivative. Over the one side of Pakistan’s border is a country that cultivates 90 per cent of world’s opium, while on the other, there are companies that are advancing in chemical precursors,” said Colonel (r) Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry while talking to ‘The News’ in connection with World Day Against Drug Abuse being observed on Friday, June 26, around the globe.
The United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed every year to raise awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to the society. Each year the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) selects theme for the day and this year it is ‘Let us develop our lives, our communities, our identities without drugs’.
Professor Dr. Ashraf who is serving as Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College said the illicit opium economy and related criminality and corruption continue to undermine security, the rule of law, health and development in the region and beyond. He added the drug trafficking once viewed largely as a

social and criminal problem, has transformed in recent years into a major threat to the health and security of people and regions and multi-billion dollar annual market of opiates for Pakistan’s neighbour is funding insurgency, international terrorism and wider destabilisation.
Talking of the reason why the number of drug addicts is increasing alarmingly in Pakistan, he said the drug cartels in Pakistan are fully backed and supported by the powerful and the wealthy that have got ample influence. “Moreover, apparently, police and drug mafia are colluding. Moreover, illicit drugs are easily, and cheaply available everywhere in Pakistan.”
He added the barriers preventing access to structured treatment are exceptionally high. An estimated 4.25 million individuals thought to be drug dependent in Pakistan are in dire need of professional treatment. However, the available structure has just 1,990 beds available for drug treatment and can cater to less than 30,000 drug users a year, he said. He added that young people are more susceptible to drug abuse and the widespread availability of drugs in Pakistan has left the souls of the youth as lifeless as they could be.
Talking of the factors responsible for rise in number of drug addicts, Professor Ashraf said risk taking behaviours that may involve experimenting with narcotics, smoking and alcohol, social isolation, stress, anxiety, depression, peer pressure (bad company), modern life style, hippy culture, unemployment, excessive pocket money by parents and lack of supervision and attention, the desire for social acceptance, boredom, curiosity, just to feel good, weak religious belief and lot of free time at their disposal, easy access to drugs at low prices, existence and presence of drug dens are most common factors while drugs are also used to heighten sexual pleasure, to overcome frustration, tragedies and as pain medication. He said researches have proved that people who start smoking cigarettes and or drink alcohol at a young age are much more likely to experiment with illegal drugs than people who do not smoke or drink. Efforts should be made to control the tobacco smoking in the country because it is the gateway to drug abuse, he said.
He said the drug abuse in general leads to a number of health problems, such as malnutrition, apathy, menstrual irregularities and irregular heart rhythm. There is economic breakdown of family, loss of self-confidence and will to work, loss of job, indulgence in crimes such as theft, and suicidal thoughts. Drug addicts are also more prone to accidents and are at higher risk of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis, suicide, overdose deaths and cardiovascular diseases. Married drug addicts have high probability of having mentally retarded and physically handicapped children. Young people who use cannabis are doubling their risk of psychotic symptoms like schizophrenia, hallucinations, hearing voices etc, said Professor Ashraf.
To a query, he said an addict is a sick person and needs humanistic treatment. No one should be stigmatized because of his dependence on drugs and law enforcement agencies must treat drug users as victims rather than criminals. “Drug dependence is a disease, not a crime. The real criminals are the drug traffickers,” he said.
Talking of the remedies, he said awareness campaigns through mass media, essay contests, lectures and declamation contest in schools, colleges and universities should be run in order to create awareness about the ill effects of drug addiction. Provincial education departments should develop a curriculum against drugs for inclusion in textbooks at school, college and university levels. Public awareness campaigns should be run on television and radio and more recreational facilities should be created to take the youth off the drugs, concluded Professor Ashraf.

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