Future we want: A drug-free world

Cristina Afridi, Farwa Zafar

AS we, in Pakistan join the world community on June 26th to commemorate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or the World Drug Dayas it is commonly called, we should accept that the response to address the drug problem is extremely inadequate.

For the sake of our youth and our countries, we can do better! The world is each year witnessing an alarming increase in the number of users and addicts, especially among the young population.

If no action is taken, the number of drug addicts around the world is expected to increase from 276 million, in the coming years, to over 300 million drug users in 2030 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

With half a million people losing their life to drugs in 2019 – and projected to grow in countries with high population growth, like Pakistan. it is time to measure the way we are heading.

Pakistan, with a youth bulge of over 130 million young boys and girls under 30 -64% of the population is facing hard challenges in controlling the drug problem.

Drug use is taking a heavy toll on youth especially students in Pakistan and fueling a life of addiction and crime .

It is a bitter fact that a huge number of the young generation in Pakistan use narcotics, in particular in educational settings.

A rapid increase in drug addiction among students of academic institutions has emerged as a serious social problem confronting the contemporary Pakistani society that constitutes one of the highest proportions of young people in the world. Drugs have become a deadly scourge in every class and age group.

Younger children now have access to drugs more easily than before, and more of them say they know people who use illegal drugs.

Children as young as 9-12 are already using tobacco and 13 -14 year olds are turning to drugs.

The COVID-19 has made a bad situation even worse. Pakistan, sitting on one of the world’s busiest drug trafficking corridors, next to Afghanistan, is the victim of being used as a transit route for western countries, which makes drugs cheaper than even food items.

Even more alarming is the rapidly rising diversification in types and modes for trafficking of drugs, especially due to the covid-19 pandemic opportunities.

In particular, the impact of cannabis legalization in 2020 worldwide and in Pakistan for medicinal purpose is showing trends growing towards an increase in use and risks towards abuse and dependency on cannabis, especially among the youth.

Without proper monitoring and control systems such policies may yield more harm than benefits.

Despite drugs having harmed millions of people in the country, it seems we as a society and state are still in denial.

The undeniable drug issue is affecting our health, economic and development directly or indirectly.

A number of policy makers and leadership in Pakistan are now acceptingthat adequate attention has not been paid to drug eradication measures.

The complexities that have contributed to the lack of solutions for the problem in Pakistan have been attributed amongst others to stigma, systemic weaknesses-institutionalised incentives for inattention to measures that can compel accountability.

Such governance practices have not augured well for any effort aimed at curbing the drug use problem.

It is time that we in Pakistan should collectively focus on the power of prevention to educate our school going teenagers on the dangers of indulging in the use of recreational drugs.

Pakistan needs to reset its approach to a 21st-century drug policy which weighs in on prevention at the center of its efforts to combat the menace of drug problem.

Removing stigma, raising awareness and amplifying the urgency of drug prevention education is a must if Pakistan wants to win the war on drugs.

The need for a new response to drugs that puts stronger focus on prevention programmes encompassing life-skills focused prevention education “Unplugged” a European Union best practice programme, mandatory drug prevention classes, student health monitoring, therapy counselors in schools, focus on sports activities, art promotion, amongst others.

We cannot allow the world’s drug problem to further shadow the lives of the tens of millions of people living worldwide.

On this important day, let us commit to action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse.

(Courtesy Pakistan observer)