Earlier in the month, Balochistan High Court passed a directive to the Education Department seeking screening of all students enrolled at education institutes of the province for drug abuse. The Court was hearing a petition on apparent increase in incidence of drug addiction among students.
In the latest country-level study conducted by the United Nations Office of Drug Control in 2013, the number of drug dependent people in Pakistan has been estimated at 4.5 million. The study also found that treatment facilities were available to a mere 30,000 of these users.The UN has warned that if Pakistan wants to avoid becoming a net drugs-consuming country, it should take action against use of its space for transit of narcotics.
The issue of drug abuse may best be approached from a socio-economic lens. That is, we should recognise that solving the problem will require multifaceted measures — including generation of information on number of users, categories of narcotic substances available to them, and their reasons for consumption, alongside assessment of need for treatment and of barriers in access to treatment facilities.
Suffice it to say that solution to drug abuse requires collective action led by experts from a range of fields in medical and social sciences. The role of government officials in this action should be that of facilitators and implementers. They should facilitate experts in undertaking the aforementioned measures and implement solutions proposed in the findings of experts’ studies.
Besides, a distinction should be made between cases of addiction and those of recreational use of drugs. The latter is a worldwide phenomenon and one that is particularly evident at campuses of education institutes. Overdose of drugs is a particularly troubling aspect of recreational use. Last December, a student at a private university in Lahore had died of overdose.
To tackle the issue, it would be helpful to recognise that those indulging in recreational use are adults, and not children. Though, it’s still possible that these users are not perfectly well aware of immediate consequences that follow consumption of narcotic substances. But profiling such students through mandatory screenings, as directed by the honourable court, may not be thebest way of tackling the issue — in fact it may be counter-productive insofar as it may lead to discrimination against such students by teachers and prospective employers. A more productive approach may be to educate students about dangers of drug abuse and overdose; to identify through vigilance of teachers and parents cases where there is a risk of addiction; and to arrangeaccessible, low-cost counselling services. *