The accessibility of narcotics has greatly increased over the recent years
ppearances apart, drug use is an everyday reality for many people in Pakistan. The country has 6.7 million drug users, of which 2 million are addicts. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the figures are amongst the highest for any country in the world.
“After New York, Karachi is the city with the most drug consumption in the world,” says Muhammad Ali Rauf, managing director at Promise Rehabilitation Centre in Karachi. “Hashish (locally known as chars) is the most commonly used narcotic,” he says. “Apart from that, all types of drugs including alcohol, heroin, crystal meth, teryak, sleeping pills, ecstasy and cocaine, etc are so readily available today that one can even order them online and get those delivered at home,” he adds.
Drug peddlers can be found anywhere in Karachi. The better-known hotspots for illegal drugs include Sohrab Goth, Malir, Nazimabad and Hub Chowki. Hashish, heroin, opium, ecstasy, medical sedatives and tranquillisers, drugs that are injected and various solvents, are used by the youth and the street children.
“Cocaine and ecstasy are becoming more popular, especially among young people from the upper class in some urban areas,” says an official with the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) while speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“Hashish is the first choice for most, but heroin is gaining popularity once again,” says a psychologist at the Addicare Rehabilitation Centre.
The ease of access to drugs has greatly increased over the recent years. The availability of drugs and the prevalence of their use on college and university campuses, is largely due to students bringing drugs to the campuses. Through them, other students get to try these both for fun and out of curiosity. The person bringing in the drugs frequently starts selling those to fellow students. This extends the chain of drug users in academic institutes.
Unlike academic campuses, where there is still some semblance of restrictions, drugs are easily available on the streets of Karachi. Even some beggars work for drug dealers. In the areas identified by the authorities as drug hotspots one can buy almost any drug without much hassle.
According to an ANF official, the increased availability of drugs is partly because of their low prices. The existence and operation of drug dens is another reason. The youth are more likely to be skewed towards drug use because of peer pressure, parental neglect and a lack of sufficient interest in education. The lack of jobs, education about narcotics by the family and in schools and frustration with the economy are also mentioned as factors.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of drugs: natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic. Natural drugs, like cannabis, are made from substances found in nature and are not chemically modified. Semi-synthetic drugs are made from natural products, but they are chemically modified. Synthetic drugs like crystal meth are manufactured in laboratories.
Natural drugs are cheaper than the other categories. These are also more readily available. Addicts in the lower socio-economic classes are usually seen using these. Synthetic drugs are expensive and used mostly by people belonging to the upper socio-economic classes.
“Currently the figures for drug users cited in Pakistan exclude those consuming alcohol; at our rehabilitation centre, alcohol is considered a drug. If you add the number of alcohol consumers as well, the drug use numbers will shoot up dramatically,” says Rauf.
According to an ANF official, the average age for the initiation of drug abuse is 18 years. Cannabis (chars) in most cases is the first substance the drug users are exposed to. The reasons for starting drug use are mostly social. Sometimes drug abuse follows sustained use of pain medication; to heighten sexual pleasure or to overcome frustration or grief.
Most rehabilitation cases received for drug addiction are males. “Drug addiction is a disease, and it is treatable,” says Rauf.
Those who love an addict are always miserable. The drug problem wreaks havoc on the society.
The first step towards tackling the drug menace is awareness. According to the ANF official The News on Sunday interviewed, extensive awareness programmes need to be carried out. Schools, colleges, and universities must keep a close eye on their students. Parents must be responsible and keep an eye on the activities their children engage in and the kinds of friends they hang out with.
If one suspects illicit drug activity in their neighbourhood, they must immediately report it to the nearest police station. If the police officers there are unable to tackle the problem, the complainant can call the ANF helpline, 1415.
Can drug addiction be treated? Research and developments in the fields of drugs and substance use have made it possible to effectively treat and control addiction. Progress is slow and depends on the specific medications and length of treatment.
According to experts at the Addicare Rehabilitation Centre, there are four distinct stages of recovery from drug addiction: intake, detox, rehabilitation and aftercare/ ongoing recovery.
Intake consists of a comprehensive evaluation, which is then used to create a treatment plan for the patient’s recovery. The unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are managed in the detoxification stage.
After getting through detox, the patient moves on to the rehabilitation stage. At this stage, the person is engaged in extensive therapy to investigate what led them to substance abuse. Lastly, patients don’t stop working on their recovery after they finish their first rehabilitation programme. In fact, recovery is a process that can go on for the rest of their lives. Before a patient finishes a treatment programme for addiction, he or she will meet with counsellors to talk about a plan for aftercare. Regular individual and group therapy sessions after rehab can help people stay accountable for their sobriety on the road to recovery.
Helping a drug addict enter into treatment is the best support that can be offered to them. Experts say drug addicts deserve your patience since rehabilitation from drug abuse takes time. Ignoring or avoiding them is never a good idea. Ensure that they are healthy and happy.
The writer is a freelance journalist studying mass communication at the University of Karachi