Why are we allowing drug abuse to numb the future of our youth?
The World Drug Report published in 2016 states that drug addiction has reached epidemic levels with approximately 247 million drug users across the world. According to the Global Drug Survey, excluding alcohol and tobacco, the top 10 drugs used across the world are cocaine, cannabis, MDMA, amphetamines, LSD, magic mushrooms, prescribed and unprescribed opioid medication, ketamine, poppers, and nitrous oxide. The abuse of drugs not only poses a threat to an individual’s health but also gives rise to socio-economic problems.
Since its discovery thousands of years ago, marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug, is consumed by more than 22.2 million people worldwide, as stated by the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Amphetamines such as cocaine, meth, and stimulant prescriptions are the second most popularly abused drugs among youth worldwide.
A UN report says that in Pakistan alone, more than 40,000 individuals become drug addicts every year. The total number of drug addicts is 7.6 million, with 78 percent male and 22 percent female users. In July 2015, Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) informed the Senate’s standing committee on Interior and Narcotics Control that an estimated 700 people die every day due to drug-related problems, as opposed to the 39 who die in terrorism-related incidents.
However, while Pakistan has spent nearly Rs 800 billion in the past 15 years on the war on terror, the federal budget 2017-18 allocated a paltry Rs 70 million towards the National Fund for Control of Drug Use – basically allocating Rs 11 or less for the treatment and rehabilitation of each drug addict in the country. The findings are quite dismal, to say the least, and are a tell-tale sign of the government’s commitment towards a grave public health issue.
It seems every nation shares some common denominators in substance abuse trends, but across the globe, we find that every country possesses its own specific burdens and challenges pertaining to the young population in its country. Pakistan is no exception. Our youth today are exposed to some very dangerous substances as part of “trends” which can be seen across the different strata of our society.
The ever-increasing number of drug addicts in Pakistan calls for immediate attention on part of the healthcare authorities to take effective measures and mitigate the menace.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
In Pakistan, more than 800,000 people -- between the ages of 15 and 64 years -- are addicted to heroin, as stated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). According to estimates, around 44 tons of heroin are consumed every year in the country, which is two to three times higher than that consumed in the US. In the South Asian region, Pakistan is considered the worse affected by the growing menace of substance abuse.
The sheer gravity of the demographic distribution of this menace among the youth requires an urgent shift in policies directed towards understanding the problem first and then trying to make a National Action Plan to curb it.
The question arises about gaps in knowledge regarding the reasons for the sudden increase in substance abuse in the past decade. Is it due to access to social media and peer pressure? An easy availability of drugs within and outside the premises of schools and universities? Or is it the failure of the law enforcement agencies who -- despite knowing the dens of the drug peddlers – have failed to take concrete measures against them?
Nearly 30 million people worldwide are considered drug abusers. If the problem continues, the UNODC projects the number of substance abusers will increase by an additional 25 percent by the year 2050, reaching exponential levels of an additional 65 million drug users.
Underdeveloped countries lack the resources to prevent and treat drug abuse and will be the populations to be hit the hardest in the coming decades.
The ever-increasing number of drug addicts in Pakistan calls for immediate attention on part of the healthcare authorities to take effective measures and mitigate the menace. The National Narcotics Policy of 2010 had suggested the need for mainstreaming drug detoxification, treatment, education, setting up of rehabilitation centers at the federal, provincial, district-level hospitals, as well as facilitate the aftercare and social integration of such patients. However, in the past eight years, there has been no significant progress made in terms of policy recommendations.
There is a serious need to clamp down on the proliferation of drugs. Local communities, schools, and nongovernmental organizations must support drug education and mandatory screening programs. Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry, under the patronage of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, needs to strictly adhere to the policy of dispensing opiate and stimulants only is its prescribed by authentic medical authorities and after scrutinizing the files of the patients.
On our part, we as a society need to change the lens through which we see drug addicts. They are not just the “others”, but live among us as family members, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, too. They deserve our empathy and compassion and we need to make a collective effort to work with our policymakers to bring a change. Nearly 700 people die every day due to drug-related problems. Let that number sink in a bit.
– Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of environment and health.