Curbing the menace of drugs in schools and universities

Understanding issues, roles, responsibilities important

Today drug addiction is one of the pervasive problems that almost all the countries have faced in the world, including Pakistan. The consequences of such addiction, abuse and trafficking especially among the youth and young people can be devastating as they are the most vulnerable on hard drugs and this brings a lot of adverse effects on the entire community.

In October 2016, an NGO report revealed that almost 53 percent students and young children at large school chains in Islamabad have been found to be addicted to various kinds of drugs ranging from soft to hard. Most of these children belong to the elite or rich class where affordability is not an issue. The Senate standing committee on interior narcotics control showed serious concern over this report.

The recent arrest of a gang leader, by Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), involved in supplying drugs to students in Islamabad is a worth-mentioning achievement to curb this menace.

However, nothing much was visible in terms of actions or preventive measures that should have been taken by schools or institutions. It was not until the recent incident of death as a result of overdose by a student at an elite institution in Lahore that caught the attention of media and not only the schools but the administration realised how grave and alarming the situation was. It is now evident that the issue is not limited to Islamabad but has spread countrywide. As an educationist and career counsellor I frequently visit schools and universities in all provinces, including Islamabad, where I have the opportunity to interact with groups of students as well as on individual basis to discuss their career issues that involve their personal likes and dislikes, problems in education and social life, financial and other issues that are vital for providing them guidance to become successful and responsible citizens.

It is here where I started to feel that anti-depressant and even drugs have reached the educational institutions being used as a healing source for anxiety, stress and boredom. This was especially true for institutions where the learning environment and challenges are set at optimum levels. However, the students were very reluctant and offensive in revealing other details or sources etc. I therefore feel it is time for us to address this grave issue and has engendered a desire for me to write this article to understand the issues that prevail in our institutions and how can we identify them to perform our roles and responsibilities to protect our youth and young generation indulging in drugs instead of focusing on their education with healthy minds that will turn into responsible citizens and leaders of tomorrow.

While the government, administration and those who police the narcotics have their job to do, we as responsible citizens, education policy makers, school administrators, educators, teachers and philanthropists have to play a key role at our respective platforms to fight the menace of drug usage in our youth. We can do this by identifying the root cause, bringing in relevant rules and policies, adopting preventive measures through placing physical barriers and improving the integration within the student community at all levels. Let me be clear that turning institutions in a police state through deploying security wardens, CCTV cameras and different other methods of enforcement of achieving a non-drug environment is not the only solution, until/unless this is followed and investigating the reasons and issues which compel students and youth to initiate the use of drugs or to find a facilitator within their peers. The institutions will have to revisit its learning environment and see if it was not too stressful for students when on campus as at times intensive academic regime may generate an immense amount of stress and anxiety for certain students. “Poor grades and low performance create dejection which ultimately leads people to resort to methods that would ease their daily anxieties and stress with drugs especially when these readily available”. The larger the institution is the more comprehensive the preventive measures will have to be taken particularly where institutions have on campus residences/hostels. The use of drugs and narcotics leads to mental health issues and thus requires proper mental health facilities through professionally trained psychologists and counsellors who frequently interact with students and are accessible for students to reach out in case where advice is necessary. The feedback and data from these professionals would help the management to calibrate their on campus environment and to address day to day issues in general. “The other root cause could be the influence of peer pressure and inadequate self-confidence during formative years of youth i.e. a friend can be greatly influenced to be a drug addict if allowed to interact with a group. One may have to attempt as a test of fun of it and gradually ruin his career and life”. Professors and teachers can play a key role in reducing peer pressures through effective intervention; they have the capacity to boost a student’s sense of self-worth. They can ensure classroom atmosphere is nonthreatening and nonjudgmental and finally the learning environment reflects care, understanding and involvement. While I agree that schools/institutions do not have in their power to stop smoking, drinking or drug abuse, they do have it in their power to improve students’ knowledge and skills and to encourage the development to defensive values.

The other important measure in controlling drug would be to highlight and raise awareness among students about the serious harm it could bring not only to their health but to their entire study pattern. This could be done through series of seminars and workshops, providing brochures, posters and video clips that can be easily shown on the LCDs that are now part and parcel of all modern institutions and universities in common rooms, canteens and recreational areas.

To conclude a proper policy framework will have to be developed by the ministry of education/higher education that covers schools to university level education, identifying the use of preventive measures, tools and techniques in conjunction with the law enforcing and policing agencies which already have such guidelines available. The school and university management will then have to incorporate the relevant measures not only to prevent but to identify and eliminate the problem to the root level that involves use of drugs and if we all join hands and work together we can at least significantly minimise this problem if not fully eradicate.

I hope that every responsible citizen of Pakistan would realise the importance and understand how alarming this situation can become if we do not act now.

(Syed Azhar Husnain Abidi is a renowned educationist in Pakistan, with more than 20 years of experience as provider of education counselling services. He has represented Pakistan in over 100 national and international seminars, conferences and fora. He is the recipient of the most coveted civil award Tamgha-e-Imtiaz).

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