Governments need to do more to monitor the sale of over-the-counter medicines, particularly painkillers, as more and more young people are abusing them as drugs, said Dichen Choden, a Bhutanese expert in town for the Fourth Pakistan Youth Congress.
Speaking to The Express Tribune at the sidelines of the Congress on Monday, Choden said that there had been an increase in abuse of medicines by young people in Asian countries. “We want governments to take stricter steps to ensure proper monitoring, especially with the trend of over-the-counter medicines being used for drug abuse,” said Choden, who is programme officer at the Colombo Plan Drug Advisory Programme (CPDAP) and has been in youth counselling and drug prevention since 2005.
Choden said that drug abuse was one of the reasons governments made sure that addictive medicines were not available without a prescription from a doctor. “The greatest misconception amongst youth regarding drug usage is that it helps alleviate your problems,” she said. “What they fail to realise is that it actually increases problems.”
She said that “pop culture” and peer pressure pushed young people into drug addiction. “Youths listen to their peers and the best way to curb drug usage is to take youths on board,” she said.
That is why the Colombo Plan, she said, focused on training youths to act as drug prevention counsellors. She said that one study estimated prevention to be ten times cheaper than treatment for drug addiction.
The CPDAP organises the Asian Youth Congress each year. The last AYC was held in Japan in July and included 62 participants from 21 countries, down from 500 participants from across the region at the Congress in 2007.
Choden said that the Congress now aimed at producing the best possible quality of young leaders rather than quantity.
The 4th Pakistan Youth Congress, which is based on the AYC, started on September 1 and has drawn some 300 youth participants from across the country and 11 international participants from Afghanistan, Bhutan and Indonesia. Governor Sardar Latif Khosa will be chief guest at the conclusion of the event on Tuesday.
The event is being organised by the Drug Free Pakistan Foundation and is themed ‘Revolution from Within’. DFPF Director Farheen Naveed said she had wanted to organise such an event ever since she participated in the AYC in 2005.
She said the event aimed to foster leadership and life skills in people aged 18 to 27 from middle income households. She said that they had received 3,800 entry applications from all over the country.
Naveed said the young leaders who emerge from the four-day Pakistan Youth Congress would be encouraged to take up social projects in their areas to bring about positive change, especially regarding drug prevention. She said that 35 shortlisted participants received further training and one youth leader was then sponsored to attend the AYC and represent Pakistan.
Seventy students from Punjab University, which is hosting the event, are participating in the Congress, said psychology lecturer Shahnila Tariq. She said that only six students from PU made it to the PYC last year in Karachi.
Shirin Ahmed, a youth mobiliser at the PYC, said the best way to engage young people in drug prevention programmes was to make them fun. “Awareness sessions and lectures often bore young people. We have to make it more engaging through activities and songs to attract their attention.”
Ramin Nihan, a 23-year-old student from Kabul, said he wanted to learn how to engage youth in social activities to curb drug use.
Visiting Lahore for the first time, Nihan said there was a general lack of awareness about the dangers of drugs in his hometown.
Xar Nigar Tajik, a 21-year-old from Tajikistan, said lack of economic opportunities pushed young people towards drug abuse. “The frustration amongst young people is high and that needs to be addressed by the governments,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2012.
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