Across educational institutions nationwide, there’s been a recent upsurge in the illicit use of drugs and tobacco, impacting students, administrative staff, and even faculty members. This concerning trend is fueled by societal lawlessness, facilitating easy access to illicit substances, alongside factors like escalating poverty and limited job opportunities.
These concerns took center stage at a national conference titled ‘Substance Use Prevention and Treatment: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice,’ held at Karachi University’s Institute of Clinical Psychology on Dec 22, 2023. The event was a collaboration between the university, the Local Challenge Fund (LCF), and the Higher Education Commission.
During the inaugural session, the interim Sindh Health Minister, Dr. Saad Khalid Niaz, voiced apprehension over the escalating drug use within campuses. He revealed that investigations had uncovered drug supplies being facilitated by educational institution staff, prompting the government to track down those involved.
However, Dr. Niaz lamented that while the surge in illicit drugs garnered attention, other addictive substances like gutka failed to raise concern, despite their normalization within society.
Acknowledging the challenge in eradicating the drug supply network and the ease of access through the internet, Dr. Niaz advocated for a shift in focus towards understanding the users and the underlying factors compelling them toward substance use.
Highlighting the societal reasons and the scarcity of rehabilitation centers contributing to the rise in drug addiction, he underscored the greater danger posed by vape and electronic cigarettes compared to conventional smoking.
Expressing dismay over religious and moral decline, Dr. Niaz criticized the lack of involvement from religious scholars in spreading awareness about drug prevention. He emphasized the need for societal introspection, citing prevalent dishonesty and ethical degradation.
Brigadier Umar Farooq, Regional Directorate Commander of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF-Sindh), disclosed that the agency had seized six metric tons of drugs in 2023, valued at $81 million in the international market, leading to the arrest of 252 traffickers.
Prof Imran Bashir Chaudhry, from Dr. Ziauddin Medical University and Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning (PILL), shared that Pakistan had around 8.9 million substance users, ranking it among the top 10 countries burdened by tobacco use.
Addressing the challenges faced in Sindh, Prof. Chaudhry mentioned collaborative efforts with the Sindh Task Force on Drug Demand Reduction and Substance Misuse and other stakeholders to devise a comprehensive action plan.
Prof. Syed Attaullah Shah, Vice Chancellor of Karakoram International University, GB, highlighted the escalating challenge of drug addiction and tobacco abuse among youth within higher educational institutions. He cited various pressures and easy access to substances within campuses as primary causes.
The speakers underscored the array of illicit substances consumed by youth, including alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cannabis, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs.
Moreover, Prof. Muhammad Iqbal Afridi emphasized the need for a shift in societal attitudes toward drug abusers, citing addiction as a chronic disorder requiring a multidisciplinary approach for proper treatment, considering the prevalence of coexisting psychiatric illnesses among drug users.
Notable speakers at the event included Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja, Chairman of the Sindh Mental Health Authority, Prof. Khalid M. Iraqi, Vice Chancellor of KU, Prof. Tariq Mehmood, former head of the radiology department at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, and Prof. Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan, Vice Chancellor of FATA University.
Acknowledgement: Daily Dawn