Drugs are not the only problem

Published: April 13, 2012

Given the ‘explosive personalities’ of some of our populace, a war on drugs is like trying to fight an elephant with a flyswatter. PHOTO: REUTERS

Drug use usually starts as a form of rebellion, be it against mom and dad, your own friends or society as a whole. Ease of access only increases the likelihood that someone will make an uninformed decision and light up their first joint, smoke their first bong, or worse, pick up their first needle.

Pakistan is historically a hashish-smoking nation, with records of the cannabis-derived substance’s use going back thousands of years. Although some would try to deny it, drugs, at least soft drugs, are part of the local culture. From bhang and charas up to opium, Mother Nature’s gifts to the stoner are both plentiful and high quality here.

This presents a problem that just can’t be swept under the rug by carting out a few kilos of seized hash, opium or heroin and saying that drug use is being effectively combated. The reality is that drug use not only continues, it is diversifying. Cocaine and ecstasy are easily available to those who can afford them, while cheaper drugs or other ways to get high, such as the ever-popular Samad Bond remain the staple for the economically-challenged.

This problem is by no means isolated to Pakistan, with abject failure being the common thread among countries aggressively trying to end drug use. This is why some countries have shifted focus from drug use to something else, namely drug abuse.

While it is only two letters added to the former, drug abuse is an easier issue to focus on than mere use. For one, a user could be someone who smokes a joint once a week, or a person who shoots up heroin five times a day. Granted, both are illegal, but it would be unfair to bracket the functional smoker with the heroin addict.

Trying to get everyone off drugs is well intentioned, but it requires too much focus on people who are not a societal issue. Just like cigarettes and alcohol, or for that matter coffee, tea, candy and sugar, addiction is a self-inflicted problem. Many users, especially with ‘soft-drugs’, never go down that rabbit hole. Plus, many such anti-use campaigns inadvertently encourage drug use, either by showing hilariously unrealistic consequences, or unintentionally applying peer pressure through reminders of how widespread its use is.

Anyway, the real societal issue with drug use stems from addiction. Last year, an official working with the anti-narcotics campaign said that over eight million people, roughly 4% of the population, are addicted to drugs, spending at least Rs3,000 a month on getting high. In a country where minimum wage is Rs7,000, this is frightening, especially when coupled with a more recent survey which found that almost a third of intravenous drug users in Rawalpindi have HIV/AIDS.

The latter survey shows almost a quarter of needle users first shot up before they were 18. Half the users didn’t know what AIDS even is. And this is Pindi, an urban centre, one of the largest in the country. If people, even junkies, don’t know what AIDS is, we have a serious problem, and drugs are not it. Our problems are our own inbuilt biases. An occasional hashish smoker is not a ‘charsi’, no more than AIDS is a disease that only affects gay people. In the US, after years of unfair association of AIDS with homosexuality by those with their own agendas, it took a child with haemophilia (infected via a blood transfusion) to prove that AIDS can affect anyone.

Yes, the illegality of drugs means there is going to be a connection with crime and violence, but given the ‘explosive personalities’ of some of our populace, a war on drugs is like trying to fight an elephant with a flyswatter. Even if the flyswatter looks like a mouse on steroids.

Then there is the issue of corruption. The blanket ban on alcohol consumption for Muslims may be applied using a very thin weave, but that is because there is too much money to be made for those without scruples. Regulation would eliminate the parallel economy, and along with the tax revenues on such a commodity, would bolster the economy. Those revenues are genuinely new and untapped. They could be used for development, or drug and alcohol awareness.

Also, it would reduce police corruption and force them to actually fight crime instead of rounding up a few token merrymakers who apparently present a threat to the law and order situation with a couple of beers, while (alleged) terrorists get to roam free because they have rights. Something is very wrong with the law, and the system as a whole, when (alleged) criminal/ terrorist masterminds can walk free, sometimes with police protection, while a guy busted with one bottle gets booked as a criminal.

Read more by Vaqas here or follow his on Twitter @Vasgar

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • alicia

    SO basically we should legalize alcohol to cut of drug problem?Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    As you have said, the “alleged terrorists” are not necessarily terrorists, since they are innocent until proven guilty, whereas someone drinking alcohol is clearly a criminal, since he is without a doubt breaking the law.
    While someone suspected of terrorism should definitely be investigated and detained if necessary, that doesn’t mean that someone who is drinking is absolved of their crime.Recommend

  • Malcolm Kyle

    A rather large majority of people will always feel the need to use drugs such as heroin, opium, nicotine, amphetamines, alcohol, sugar, or caffeine.
    The massive majority of adults who use drugs do so recreationally – getting high at the weekend then up for work on a Monday morning.
    Apart from the huge percentage of people addicted to both sugar and caffeine, a small minority of adults (nearly 5%) will always experience the use of drugs as problematic. – approx. 3% are dependent on alcohol and approx. 1.5% are dependent on other drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroine etc.
    Just as it was impossible to prevent alcohol from being produced and used in the U.S. in the 1920s, so too, it is equally impossible to prevent any of the aforementioned drugs from being produced, distributed and widely used by those who desire to do so.
    Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the drugs it prohibits.
    Due to Prohibition (historically proven to be an utter failure at every level), the availability of most of these mood-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour.
    Throughout history, the prohibition of any mind-altering substance has always exploded usage rates, overcrowded jails, fueled organized crime, created rampant corruption of law-enforcement – even whole governments, while inducing an incalculable amount of suffering and death.
    Apart from the fact that the DEA is the de facto enforcement wing of the pharmaceutical industry, the involvement of the CIA in running Heroin from Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, and Cocaine from Central America has been well documented by the 1989 Kerry Committee report, academic researchers Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott, and the late journalist Gary Webb.
    It’s not even possible to keep drugs out of prisons, but prohibitionists wish to waste trillions of dollars in an utterly futile attempt to keep them off our streets.
    The United States jails a larger percentage of it’s own citizens than any other country in the world, including those run by the worst totalitarian regimes, yet it has far higher use/addiction rates than most other countries.
    Prohibition is the “Goose that laid the golden egg” and the lifeblood of terrorists as well as drug cartels. Both the Taliban and the terrorists of al Qaeda derive their main income from the prohibition-inflated value of the opium poppy. An estimated 44 % of the heroin produced in Afghanistan, with an estimated annual destination value of US $ 27 Billion, transits through Pakistan. Prohibition has essentially destroyed Pakistan’s legal economy and social fabric. We may be about to witness the planet’s first civil war in a nation with nuclear capabilities. – Kindly Google ‘A GLOBAL OVERVIEW OF NARCOTICS-FUNDED TERRORIST GROUPS’ Only those opposed or willing to ignore these facts want things the way they are.

  • White Collar

    Good thought keep it unless charrs should be legalized in Pak.Recommend

  • MA

    this is pretty much the same arguments that ‘people with their own agendas’ gave in the US back in the days when they wanted to suppress marijuana trade because they weren’t the ones exporting it. Instead, they upscaled the already large alcoholic industry (no i’m not a hater) and made marijuana taboo for the rest of the world. Alcohol poisoning causes scores of deaths each year all over the world. In contrast, there has not been a single death, not a single death reported from the overuse of marijuana in history. Now i do know that you are acknowledging the fact that we shouldn’t be going after everyone who is seen with rolling paper or a little bit of green, but i believe society should entirely pull marijuana out of this entire drug equation because it really hasn’t done the world much harm. Infact, just before our western buddies started bringing down the image of marijuana in the corners of the world, many of our ancestors were probably sitting in farms, lighting up a j before or after (depending on their personalities) a hard day of work!Recommend

  • anonymous

    Dont hate on Mary Jane, bro.Recommend

  • Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

    We should curtail the root causes of drug addiction.Recommend

  • Psilocybe cubensis

    Drug use makes the world a better place. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably spends most of their time in front of the T.V. or out feeding their insatiable materialistic desires. There is an endless selection of drugs to choose from, and its unfortunate that people use chemicals that are potentially harmful, addictive and life threatening. That being said, the USE of ‘hard’ drugs should be dealt with as a social problem and not a crime. The dealers who pedal bags of heroin to addicts are the real criminals, but they’re no worse than your common bureaucrat. They’re just like most people, trying to make some money anyway possible. That’s the real issue, the addiction to money and power.

    Light up your joints and enjoy yourselves! Take pride when your misinformed peers call you a charsi and say you’re ruining your life. Their lives are already in ruins. These closed minded retards need to drop a few hits of LSD and sit face to face with themselves to find out who they really are.

    ‘None but ourselves can free our minds.’ – Bob MarleyRecommend