Stigma associated with drug use prevents many from getting rehabilitation treatment
ari* is twenty-three years old. She is an underground entertainer in Peshawar. She dances at night parties. In the course of her work, she is exposed to addictive drugs and alcohol. For the last three years, she has been taking Ecstasy pills, drugs and alcohol at the parties where she performs.
Pari is hesitant to share her story. Four years ago, she says, she left her house in the village in the hopes of marrying a boy she had loved. After arriving in Peshawar, the boy disappeared. She realised then that she had been abandoned. She was heartbroken and alone in a strange city.
A stranger gave her shelter. He ran a network that peddled drugs as well as young girls who had been forced into dancing at night parties. “I felt that I had two options. I could return home and risk being killed in the name of ‘honour’; or I could start a new life among strangers,” she says. She chose the latter. In a short span of time, someone who had never smoked a cigarette, began using hash, alcohol and some other drugs available at the parties where she performed. The parties where she performs are thus not only her sole source of income but also the place where her addiction thrives.
Pari knows a handler who operates a network of over a hundred girls, all of whom dance at underground dance parties. A majority of them, she says, are addicted to various kinds of drugs. She says that a majority of girls and women abandoned by their families risk falling into the addiction trap.
An assistant professor at a government college in Peshawar says that all kinds of drugs are available at many campuses. He says drugs are also easily available in college and university hostels.
Saba, who runs a drug rehabilitation centre in Charsadda, close to Peshawar, says drug abuse is a very complex issue. She says drugs are available in every corner of the city. She too says that lonely and abandoned women are more vulnerable to exposure and addiction than others.
She says there is a great need today to educate families, young adults as well as those running educational institutions and working spaces to better understand the seriousness of the issue and discourage drug addiction.
Azaz-ud Din works as a planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting manager for Dost Welfare Foundation, a Peshawar-based humanitarian organisation concerned mostly with drug addiction rehabilitation. He says due to the social stigma, very few women come to rehabilitation centres for treatment. He also says women addicts usually do not take hard drugs. “We treat around 2,000 drug addicts annually. Only about 10 to 15 of those are women. We believe that the gap is because of the stigma associated with drug addiction,” he says.
Dost Foundation does not have a separate centre for female drug addicts but if a woman knocks on their door for treatment, it provides a separate room for them. A majority of the women addicted to substance abuse avoid drug rehabilitation centres over privacy concerns. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are no dedicated drug rehabilitation centres for women.
Muhammad Ilyas is the chief operating officer (CEO) of two drug rehabilitation centres in Peshawar and Charsadda. He says that over the recent weeks, 12 parents have contacted him with the request to admit their daughters to the centers for treatment. “We are unable to entertain the request. It requires special arrangements and resources that we lack,” he says.
Last week, he says, a parent in Peshawar contacted the centre. Their daughter, a university student, is addicted to drugs and they are worried about her well being and her future. Ilyas says they are carefully looking for an appropriate facility where their daughter might receive treatment.
Pari wants to return to the life she once had; she calls it her ‘normal’ life. “I am tired of the drugs and entertaining addicts.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity
The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney