Skardu: Easy availability of narcotics in Gilgit Baltistan has made school children in the region vulnerable to drug addiction, say students and school teachers.

In addition to complaints from teachers and parents, News Lens Pakistan investigation involving police reports and data gleaned from drug-peddlers revealed that over 1700 youth between the ages of 17 – 20 years were addicted to narcotics in the city of Skardu alone.

“This covers students mostly from grade 7 onwards,” said a drug dealer who spoke to News Lens on condition of anonymity. “About 90 per cent of these students are addicted to marijuana while some 10 per cent take other drugs such as opium, heroin and alcohol.”

There is no official data available with the Department of Education Skardu on cases of drug addiction in schools. Since information about drug-abuse on part of school-children could mar a schools reputation, private schools are reluctant to investigate the matter. Nor do they keep any record that could give information on the extent of problem.

“This negligence on behalf of schools is only increasing the number of affected students,” said a school-teacher who didn’t want to be named because his school had the same problem. “Teachers of public schools have to rely on police record [for cases where students are arrested for drug abuse].

The teacher said about 45 to 50 public schools and colleges in the region had an average of 35 per cent children affected. When News Lens tried inquiring of school administrations about measures taken to protect students or action taken against those involved in drug abuse, none of the schools gave any response. However teachers reported that several students had been expelled from schools on grounds of drug use.

Police confirmed that arrests of young drug-users had gone up from 200 in 2015 to 1500 in 2016. Data made available by the Skardu Police Station revealed that there were 24 key drug-dealers who supplied marijuana, opium and other illegal drugs from Jaglot and other cities.

Dealers reportedly disguise as fruit and vegetable vendors close to schools, enticing students to substance abuse. Some are known to engage students for drug-trafficking. According to Skardu police that recently arrested one of the drug lords, he had pictures of school-going youth on his phone who only consumed marijuana but also sold it.

Senior Superintendent Police for District Skardu, Raja Mirza Hassan, said the police had not registered any cases against students involved in trafficking drugs. He said the police regularly conducted raids in suspicious areas but it had not received any reports that indicated involvement of students from any particular school in drug-peddling.

He said there were at least 5 to 6 key locations within Skardu where drugs were sold but since the police crackdown, drug peddlers didn’t use fixed locations.

Director Education Baltistan, Babar Khan, said he had not come across any report that showed that students used drugs on school premises. “It may be possible that some students have been using narcotics outside the school,” he said.

He said if News Lens had identified schools where students abused drugs, it should share their names with the Education Department and the school administrations would be alerted and instructed to keep a close watch on student activities.

A student expelled from school for use of illicit drugs said he had been smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol for the past two years. He said narcotics were easily available in the city. “However, at the time of police crackdown supply stopped for some time. In that case consumers and dealers flee to nearby cities.” He also agreed with police reports that youth addicted to drugs often get sexually exploited by their dealers, adding that the drug-habit almost ended his academic career.

District Inspector Skardu Schools, Ghulam Muhammad Haidary, said he had not received any complaints about the use of illicit drugs in schools. He, however, said when drugs were easily available in a society then students, being vulnerable targets, were easily affected. “But no such activity is taking place within the premises of any educational institute.”

Senior educationist Mohammad Hassan Hasrat said when drug abuse was prevalent especially among the youth, it sets the society on a downward spiral. “It is alarming to know about the state of drug abuse among the students of Gilgit Baltistan and must be addressed immediately by law enforcing agencies.”

Psychologist Dr. Shahida at the District Headquarters Hospital in Skardu said poverty and social deprivations were the main reasons why students turned to drugs.

Moreover, she said, if a child had been exposed to adults who were dependent on drugs or alcohol, it increased the likelihood of the child taking drugs. “Most of the children or youth turning to drugs are highly sensitive in nature. Instead of treating them with strictness, parents must be more aware of their needs and be supportive towards them.”

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