Drug dependence and abuse among Kerala school children 

Dr G Shreekumar Menon

Representative Image

Drug abuse remains a major challenge in the 21st century around the globe. Reports from different local and international bodies have shown a high prevalence of drug abuse among young people, across the world. Drug use among young people differs from country to country and depends on social and economic circumstances of those involved. Kerala is also no exception to this global trend.

Drug dynamics commences as early as ten or eleven years, according to media reports, with the experimental use of inhalants such as glue petrol, eraser fluid, and aerosols. Age of 12 is the stage when children get acquainted with alcohol, tobacco, and other related drugs and develop a curiosity to find out how they taste and work. Children's friends are always the first to introduce them to these substances.
Two contrasting settings illustrate the wide range of circumstances that provoke drug use among young people. On one hand, drugs are used in recreational settings to add excitement and enhance experience; on the other hand, young people living in extreme conditions use drugs to cope with their difficult circumstances. Some youth take drugs because of the ‟Pleasure Principle”. This category of young people do not suffer from stress or money. They came from well to-do families, and are materially well off. However, they take drugs for pleasure and for more fun. There are many other students who struggle to maintain a decent life as they come from impoverished families. Another category of students are those who are not interested in studies and have dropped out, and spend their time hanging around in shopping malls and entertainment areas.

Some youth take drugs because of the ‟Pleasure Principle”

Everyday, images of young boys and girls, drinking alcohol or using drugs, in isolated places goes viral on social media. Things have become so bad that in some places, girl students have been caught in bus-stands and public places. All these directly or indirectly affect the girl-child education issue.

These boys and girls are often imitating the models in their environment. The models usually are friends, parents, siblings, movie stars, and television stars. The learning and imitation occur in an indirect fashion through experience of others, referred to as vicarious learning. Through observation and internalisation of what others were experiencing, students learn good and bad behaviour. Students who are engaged in drug abuse most likely learned the behaviour from the environment. Teachers and adults in society are the role models for students. The habits could be influenced by their gender, age and social pressure from the peers they interacted with in schools.

The sources of drugs are often in the vicinity of educational institutions. Schools are surrounded by bakeries, medical shops, fancy stores, snack joints, and street vendors, who are often suspected to be perpetuating the drug trade for more profits. Also, most of the school students are quite computer savvy, and the online availability of all kinds of drugs makes it easy to procure drugs. Internet, Courier services, and Darknet (ICD), are the new sources of drugs for the young generation. Medical shops sell a wide variety of analgesics, stimulants, cough syrups, nasal decongestants, sleeping pills, inhalants, across the counter, which are sufficient for the newly initiated students, to get a high. Another shocking source are the teachers, hostel wardens, physical instructors, school bus drivers and conductors. Most unfortunately, many are complicit in the drug trade.

Photo: Akhil ES/ Mathrubhumi

Drug peddlers are the major source of drugs for students. Found loitering in the vicinity of schools and colleges, they carry their trade with a lot of secrecy to avoid the school administration or any relevant government authority from knowing. Students themselves are hand in glove with such peddlers, in this secret trade. Many schools do not have proper fencing and this enables the peddlers to get easy access into the schools.

Also, lured by money, many students themselves turn into agents for the peddlers. Once the students get hooked, they start buying and selling them to fresh students. This part-time trade helps the students to splurge on new fashion products, clothes, electronic stuff, movies, restaurants, two-wheelers, and picnics, without depending on their parents. Seeing such fancy lifestyles, many new students get sucked into the trade effortlessly. For extra money, girl students are willing to sell their bodies at secret rave parties, rock music festivals, discotheques and nightclubs. Resorts in remote mountain locations, deep forests and guest houses in huge apartment complexes are ideal locations to indulge in these activities. As the money is tempting, all activities go smoothly. Therefore, drug peddlers play a crucial role in inducting fresh school children, into becoming casual abusers and later on as hard core addicts.

The initiation of the students into the world of drugs commences with sipping alcohol, mostly from their homes only. A vast majority of people in Kerala are heavy drinkers. The observant students get lots of opportunities to savour alcohol, in the privacy of their homes, when the parents are away for work. This newly acquired taste is passed on to other schoolmates, either at schools or in the residences of some whose parents are engaged in their professional pursuits. While the government needs revenue from alcohol and is actively engaged in promoting and expanding its sales, an unintended fallout is that the student community is getting ensnared in the tentacles of alcohol abuse and thereafter graduating into drug abuse. This problem also exists in many other States in the country.

Tackling the drug problem among students is an intractable proposition across the world. Union and State governments in India are spending substantial sums of money to keep the students aware of the perils of drug consumption. Lots of campaigns are being regularly conducted by various government departments, like marathons, cycle rallies, pledges, blood donations, and sporting events, apart from drug awareness programs. However, the problem only seems to be increasing every year with increasing intensity. As a result of aggressive campaigning by government departments and social service organisations, students are well informed about the types of commonly abused drugs, the reasons for possible drug abuse, and the impact of such drugs on human health. But, today, it is almost a fashionable trend in many educational institutions, to accept drug dependency among students as very normal!

Excess pocket money in the hands of many students is another factor responsible for the spread of drug abuse among students. More monetary power in the hands of parents has resulted in larger pocket money for many students. Also, since the adoption of one child policy by many families, the single child is pampered with lavish pocket money. Parents provide their children with pocket money for positive use but students divert this to negative use, especially purchase of illicit substances. Students who get access to a lot of money may be tempted to buy drugs. Curiosity, one of the hallmarks of human beings, may lead to extensive exploratory behaviour. Consequently, many young people will wish to try drugs to determine the effects for themselves. Availability of drugs is a factor that can lead to drug abuse. If drugs are easily available students may decide to try them out and since they have money they will easily purchase them at will. In day schools, especially in the urban areas drugs are available and easy to purchase. Even in boarding schools, students adopt secret ways of obtaining them.

Common prevalent social factors like busy parents, lack of mentors and role models, lack of good advice, and a highly materialistic philosophy of life that stresses on the need to gain more and spend lavishly are some of the factors that compel underachievers and disillusioned people to seek and try drugs. Parents pursue material wealth and have very little healthy time with their children. This wealth which is passed on to their children in the form of pocket money or money for upkeep is in most cases misused to finance the habit of drug abuse to their detriment.

In the long run, many a young are made slaves of drug abuse without prior knowledge of where they are heading to. Later in age, they only find themselves in a sea of problems and there is no turning back! Therefore, there is a need to entrench life skills in the school curriculum; enhancing parenting skills and positive role modelling; and capacity building of guidance and counselling teachers to effectively deal with the challenges of student drug and substance abuse.

(The writer is a retiresd IRS officer and Ph D holder in Narcotics)

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