Dr Kawaldeep Kour
The statistics of the venomous course of drug addiction among children in India are shocking. They abundantly reveal that the incidence of substance abuse disorders among children have assumed epidemic proportions. There is thus a critical need of addressing the issue as it threatens to erode the fabric of our social order with our future generations falling a prey to this noxious habit.
Children are a country’s most valuable asset but statistics present figures that portend a scary situation. As per a survey conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi and recent police reports, drug abuse prevalence is high and increasing among children and adolescents. The initiation of drugs including tobacco and inhalants were stated to be as low as at nine years of age; canbis and alcohol at around 11 years and substances as heroin or opium at 12-13 years.
A study conducted by AIIMS on drug abuse among children found that Meghalaya had the highest proportion of heroin users (27.3%), followed by Tripura and Mizoram. Tobacco use was reported to be a whopping 96.4 % among children of Meghalaya with canbis use also reported to be soaring at 50.9% .Tripura, Mizoram, galand and Sikkim were the other States of the northeastern region with significant proportion of child population abusing drugs. The rise in the use of cocktail drugs and injecting drug use increases the risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C infections. The situation is precarious among the hundreds of street children, with a World Health Organisation (WHO) report pegging the figure at 25-90 %.
Psychologists warn that children with substance abuse are prone to deteriorating mental health and increasing susceptibility to aggressive behaviour, crime, violence, depression and indulgence in self-injurious behaviour. Responding to a petition by Kailash Saytarthi over the need to tackle the problem of substance abuse in children in 2016, the then Chief Justice of India, T S Thakur, had termed it as “too serious an issue to be brushed under the carpet”. The Supreme Court then had directed the Centre to formulate a plan for child including recovery, rehabilitation and counselling within six months.
Sadly enough, despite the Supreme Court of India’s “wake-up call” to policy makers and healthcare officials, India is yet to devise a holistic substance abuse prevention programme for children. Such a lackadaisical attitude is the bane of our society today when it comes to addressing crucial issues that require immediate and urgent redressal and not prolonged discussions and meetings. We might want to learn from the examples of school-based prevention programmes launched across America and Europe. In South Asian countries, the situation is grim.
Effective drug education campaigns have to be on-going, with recurring programmes to strengthen the origil prevention message. And, schools can be important setting for intervention programmes for children right from primary level to adolescents. Considering that in our country, many families may not have the proper setting or rather the right information in the right amount for communicating about drugs, use and abuse and prevention to children, schools can be frontrunners in educating both parents and children on prevention and dealing with instances of drug abuse among children, adolescent and the youth in general.
It is disappointing indeed that much before the Supreme Court directive in 2016, school-based preventive modules had been discussed, deliberated and designed by the United tions Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2004, and much earlier in 1997, the Colombo Plan Workshop on Development of Drug Prevention Curriculum for Schools under the innovative strategies on “Curriculum Development and Credentialing” and “Special Services for Children” of the Drug Advisory programme (DAP), but their implementation remains a far-fetched dream.
Piecemeal prevention and sensitization programmes are often knee-jerk reactions to drug abuse news occasiolly making headlines. Well-intentioned though they might seem, they are definitely not the solution to such a complex and multi-dimensiol problem. Certainly, they are a requisite but highly insufficient. The recent visibility to the drug scerio, particularly in India, by the print and electronic media occasiolly motivates and propels these intertiol and regiol organizations into action.
The apathetic attitude of the Central government and States is equally deplorable. They have failed to generate and have often throttled debate and discussion over a public issue of greatest concern. The efforts of the non-governmental organizations is laudable yet it cannot be ignored that there exists no quality checks and control over uniformity and authenticity of content, information and communication regarding drug use and abuse especially meant for children and adolescents. The “children are our future” rhetoric needs to be reinforced more often for the ultimate realization that misguided information enmeshed in politics and propaganda should not be allowed to become an Achilles’ heel in the fight for protecting our children from the harms and risks associated with substance abuse.