At 15, Shiny was the brightest student and scored straight A’s in her O-Level Examinations. Her parents were busy doctors minting a fortune and wanted her to score straight A’s in A-Levels to join a medical college in the UK. Pressures on her to perform were very high and parental care nonexistent. Browsing on the internet, she found names of anti-sleeping pills to stay awake. She used them, but fell into a depression. Within a year through friends on Facebook, she progressed to charas, heroin injections and amphetamines. Her parents, too busy with their routine, attributed dark circles around her eyes and loss of hair to over work, but never bothered to check her arms for punctures. She fell back in class and died of drug overdose before she was 17.
Adnan’s mother is a widow with two sons and a daughter. She has worked hard to educate her two elder children who are now employed aboard with hefty salaries. Five years ago, they moved to Baharia Town. With no supervision, Adnan got hooked to sheesha, hash and ecstasy. He started becoming violent and would often injure himself or cut his wrists. He was expelled from the college. He reacted by bringing gangsters outside the schools and colleges where his friends studied and involved in fights with firearms. He has abandoned education and operates a gang of drug addicts, who are involved in fights outside schools and colleges. The mother, who once defended him stoutly, is now helpless. For Adnan, it is a matter of time.
Meena is a foreign educated business developer. Working in a BPO, she got hooked on to drugs through young executives working at night at call centres. Out of job due to drug abuse, she now heads a gang of young addicts and peddles for the elites of Islamabad and Bharia in heroin and crack. Two of her friends have died of overdose.
These are alarming events and tip of the iceberg. It is a devil that haunts the urban elite education centres and call centres where youngsters are vulnerable and the nouveaux riches, who have no time for their children.
A decade back, hash and heroin was deemed to be a poor man’s refuge due to the prohibitive cost of imported liquor. However, the trends are now changing. Hash, heroin, amphetamines, hallucinogens, ecstasy and Ketamine compounds have proliferated into the urban elites of Pakistan. The route of entry is invariably private education institutions and BPOs operating night shift of youngsters, who attend school or college at day. Invariably, it always begins with efforts to keep awake and ends in tragedy. Outside the premises of these institutions, peddlers and criminals operate with impunity to befriend new customers. Rave parties, dancing events and attractive satanic captions splash pages on the social media. Sheesha centres in urban malls and posh localities located in farm houses are the high points of the nouveaux riches addicts where ecstasy, syringes and crack are a token of status. Once hooked there is no return.
Pakistan’s drug statistics are shocking. According to one report, over eight million Pakistanis are using drugs. The numbers are likely to touch 15 million in the next few years. Over 57 percent amongst these use heroin. According to another report amongst the women, 47 percent are college or university educated professionals. Nearly half of all urban addicts are school/college going students studying in private institutions and live in posh upcoming housings. According to DG Narcotics, private educational institutions are more vulnerable than the government educational institutions to attract the students towards drug addiction, mainly because the elites can spend more. He also expressed the opinion that addiction rate was proportional to tuition rates, where both parents were working and where parents don’t have enough time for their children. The drug of choice for the rich urban elites is not heroin but crack, a derivative of cocaine traded in dollars and euros.
Private education institutions from schools to universities have failed to check this rising menace within and outside their bounds. Most hostels of boys and girls also have dens from where this trade is run. In hostels, students experiment with chemicals to manufacture stimulants and hallucinogens in which Ephedrine and Ketamine are the basic drugs of choice. Recently, a hostel in Islamabad was found to be both a drug and prostitution den. In street corners, Garda, a lethal mix of tobacco, charas and stimulants in readymade cigarette rolls is available to anyone across the counters; usually the high school students.
In Pakistan’s urban centres, no one seems willing to take on the challenge. The district and municipal administrations despite tremendous civic powers at their disposal prefer looking the other way. Action by police is usually to extort more money from the peddlers and addicts. Private educational institutions in their desire to earn money prefer to keep their eyes closed, even to galas and dinners held in their own premises. Academicians lack the administrative fist and the leader’s prowess to deter, cajole or convince students. Nobody cares to inspect the hostel premises or why students have dropped semesters. Tutorial and social care groups are nonexistent. Visiting faculties consider having their hands washed of all responsibility and accountability. Cases instead of being reported to police and ANF are hushed up by disciplinary committees. There is a total absence of any dissuasive or punitive policy.
The time for holding ceremonial seminars on drug abuse as a compulsive expenditure should now be over. It is time to act. Detecting and preventing drug abuse is a social, civic and collective responsibility and not confined to police and ANF. Urban administrators, cantonment boards, institutional administrations and civil society groups need to wake up to this challenge and evolve aggressive action plans to combat this menace before we lose more youngsters to this social evil.
n The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.