Stemming the tide of ‘ice’ addiction

March 22, 2020

“The ease of availability is a major concern. All the drug peddlers caught selling narcotics outside schools were granted bails as the quantities found on them were small. Thanks to social media groups, contacting a drug peddler has become very easy.”

On February 6, the body of Hafiz Hamdan, 19, was found from a drain. Police later arrested two of his friends and charged them with the murder. They had killed Hamdan and sold his cell phone to buy crystal methamphetamine, popularly known as ‘ice’.

‘Ice’ is known as the most dangerous drug available on our streets. In June, 2019, another teenager, Hamza, had died from a drug overdose.

According to a police report, the drug was a major factor behind crimes in Lahore last year. A survey of 10 schools and colleges of Lahore has revealed that 57 percent of the respondent students were using at least one recreational drug.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has declared Pakistan one of the most drug-affected countries in the world. According to the UNODC report, most of the drug addicts fall in the 15-23 year age bracket. Usually, they are attending schools, colleges or universities.

“Unfortunately, it is very easy to obtain drugs in Pakistan. The country is part of the ‘golden triangle’ of drug supply. There are no strong checks in place to control narcotics supply. Hence, drugs are easily available,” said Kashif Mirza, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation central president.

Mirza, however, says that substance abuse is not yet widespread in educational institutes. “So far, the problem is confined to only a dozen or so schools,” he said.

Akmal Owaisi, the head of Al-Fajar Tanzeem, a non-government organisation (NGO) working for raising awareness about drug abuse, agrees with Mirza.

“Drug addiction is mostly prevalent among college students. In schoolchildren, it is insignificant. In my experience, the schoolchildren found addicted have picked up the habit from their families. Mostly, they start taking drugs after they see some close family member doing so. The access is easy.”

Owaisi, who works with children from the middle and lower-middle classes, says it would be wrong to say that only children belonging to upper class are affected. All children irrespective of their age or social status, he says, are prone to the risk of drug addiction.

Mirza believes that the small number of addicts does not mean that the problem can be ignored.

“We have our concerns for this small percentage as well. We must take strict action. Drug abuse has also become a fashion among students. The ease of availability is a major concern. All the drug peddlers caught selling narcotics outside schools were granted bails as the quantities found on them were small. Thanks to social media groups, contacting a drug peddler has become very easy. Parties are regularly held at farmhouses located on the outskirts of the city. Young boys and girls go there. At these parties, drugs are used on a scary scale. Therefore, it has become very difficult to keep our children safe. There is a need for law enforcement agencies to play their role.”

Nazia Usman, a coordinator at a private school, says that both teachers and parents are worried over the issue.

“This is a major concern for us. It has alarmed the parents as well. We are doing whatever we can to make sure our students are safe. We are conducting various awareness activities with parents, students and teachers. We have increased surveillance at entry gates. Any suspect is reported to the administration immediately.”

Maryam Amjad, a mother of two and a clinical psychologist, seems satisfied with the steps taken by schools. “As a parent, it is obviously worrying for me. My children keep telling me about actions taken by the school administration in this regard. Once my elder son, an O-level student, told me that cigarettes had been found in the bags of some of his classmates. At the school, the mobile phones are taken away from students in the morning and returned only at the end of classes. Steps like these are necessary to stop drug use in schools.”

The civil society is another important stakeholder in this regard. Describing the efforts made by his organisation, Akmal Owaisi, says: “We are working in three zones in Lahore: Samanabad, Ghazi Town and Data Ganj Bakhsh. We are working with 30 schools. Out of these, 15 are public and 15 are private schools. Half of them are for boys and half of them are for girls. In all these schools, we have formed peace clubs. Through these platforms, we are encouraging children to participate in various activities such as art competitions and a Green Pakistan Programme. If we talk directly to them on drug abuse, they soon lose interest. However, once we get them to participate in such activities, they seem to grasp the seriousness of the matter.”

The organisation is also working in close collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, the Excise and Taxation Department, the Narcotics Control Department and the Parks and Horticulture Authority to create a system of checks and to reduce the easy supply of narcotics.

A little while ago, use of mobile phones and social media was banned in all educational institutes by the Punjab government. Another step taken in this direction is health profiling of the students.

“The All Pakistan Private Schools Federation had suggested starting health profiling in educational institutions. We are working on its details. Due to our efforts, health profiling has been started in public schools as well,” Mirza says. All other stakeholders stress the need for more vigilance by parents.

“The problem is that addiction to most drugs can only be diagnosed through blood tests and urine tests. We often face resistance by parents with regard to testing in schools. Their concerns are justified to some extent as the society has no acceptance for a drug addict. Being harshly judged at a tender age can have a lifelong impact on the mental wellbeing of children. Nonetheless, we need to face the reality. We have to counter this menace to save our children.”

Maryam Amjad believes that lack of parental control is a major factor in the massive spread of drugs among children. “A child spends only 6-8 hours in school. During the remaining hours, they are with their parents. Schools take steps. However, getting hold of drugs is very easy. If not from their schools, children can get them from somewhere else. It is, therefore, the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on their children. They should spend quality time with them.”

Stemming the tide of ‘ice’ addiction