Drugs and Youth – The elephant in the room

"It is so important that we catch drug use dependence and abuse in adolescents because they are primed for addiction. If there is adolescents it’s happening. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the city or whether it’s the suburbs or whether it’s a large community or a small community, drugs infiltrate all communities that have adolescents”, says, Gabrielle Bealer, Adolescent Program Coordinator at Livengrin, on a news and public affairs show called Tempo Indepth.

Even in our island like nation, dotted with palm trees and surrounded by a mass of blue, drugs have taken hold of our society, specially our adolescents.

According to The National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) of 2011-2012, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC), the drug use population in Male’ was between the ages of 15 – 19 years which is 48 percent and the drug use population under the age of 24 years was about 72 percent.

As per the UNODC report drug availability was known to be identified in Maldives in the mid-1970s. Subsequently, cannabis abuse (marijuana and hashish) took root among the youth. Since then, the drug problem has become a major problem especially among youth. Over the last three decades availability of drug types in the Maldives has increased and most common types of drugs believed to be used (before this study) are marijuana, hashish oil and heroin.

However, in terms of the drug use pattern, this survey confirmed that alcohol, cannabis and opioids were the most common illicit drugs used in the country.

In May of 2018, Maldives Customs revealed that approximately 1.74 kilograms of ‘party drugs’ were shipped to the Maldives via post within the last two months. According to customs, the drugs are mostly shipped to the Maldives from the UK, Greece, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands. The variations of drugs that were shipped to the Maldives in the last two months include ecstasy and other amphetamines, methamphetamines, methadone as well as heroine.

In July last year, speaking at a press conference held at Customs headquarters in capital Male’, Chief Superintendent Ismail Hamdhoon declared that 23 kilograms of drugs were seized in 54 smuggling cases this year, including Cannabis (9.4 kg), Heroin (8.9 kg), and Hashish (1.8 kg).

"This is an increase of 43 percent compared to last year, but this is not a cause for joy," said Hamdhoon. "We want to lower this number."

Hamdhoon also noted that cases involving 'party drugs' are also on the rise.

"The danger of [party drugs] is that these are a combination of various substances. They pose more harm than other, more common drugs."

As such it is not far-fetched to conclude that one of the many reasons for drug abuse in adolescents in our society is due to the drugs being readily available in Maldives. It can be construed that the demand is being catered to. Though it may be a daunting task, governing body and law enforcers need to put up a united front and enforce such laws, which will succeed in putting a stop to this issue or at the very least minimise it. As the then Commissioner General of Customs Mohamed Junaid said, "[Drug smuggling] is not something new to Maldives and it's not something that can be entirely eradicated. But it can be minimised."

Peer pressure plays a key role in our society’s drug fiasco. It occurs when peers or friends influence our behavior. More often than not it leads to us doing things we don’t wish to do or we may not normally do. It certainly will be a wrenching feeling to be deemed different or be left out so we end up surrendering to the said peer pressure.

It can be caused by normative influence which means going along with the group so they will like you. Sometimes you change your actions to match the group even though you do not agree with them and informational influence which means going along with the group because you think they know more than you do. You change your own beliefs or attitudes because you think the group is right.

As can be seen in the report by UNODC majority of drug users - in both Malé and Atolls - reported reasons like “curiosity or experimentation”, “for fun” or “peer pressure” for initiation of drug use. Such that, we need to properly raise awareness and educate our adolescents early on with regards to drug abuse and its effects. As they say prevention is better than cure.

Via the consultations conducted for Maldives Human Development Report 2014 it was found that, “…With their criminal records, young people recovering from drug use or exiting gang life, find it difficult to find jobs, rehabilitation and or any other support system. Many feel that they are rejected by their families, friends and by society as a whole…” Lack of acceptance from society is one of the reasons why adolescents fall back to abusing drugs time and time again. From this we can interpret that in order for the said adolescent to start anew they would indeed need the appropriate support or else it will prove to be futile.

“It’s a day by day journey and if they continue to work their program and have sustaining relationships and find a place to give back to others they will hold on to their recovery. So that right there they’ve got to keep doing their parts” says Nina Dreyer LCSW, PLC, MCA Clinician & Counselor at Encompass Recovery on the second documentary in the Overtaken series (Overtaken 2 – where are they now), dealing with the topics of addiction, sobriety, and hope in recovery.

An example of one who beat the odds and overcame his addiction after his stint in rehab is Abdullah Thaufeeq or Thau as known to his friends, who was featured in a session on Dho.MV last November. Victory did not come easy but it surely did come. He spends his time in giving back to his family, friends and society. Due to his desire to help other addicts like himself, he did a basic counseling course and spent time assisting them overcome it. He aims to excel in the field of psychology and go to new lengths with his artwork embedded with Maldivian traditional designs.

Recovery is possible that is the message Thau and others like him who kicked off their addiction are depicting to our society. He is an inspiration for those who think they cannot change. He has been clean for the past five years and going strong. In addition to that he is of the belief that people like him can change. He believes that they can change quite significantly for they all have that potential within them. The only difference he feels will be the effort and time they put in after all everybody is given the same 24 hours. Ultimately, it is what you do with it, which matters.

Drugs and adolescents remains as the elephant in the room no one wishes to address but is in dire need of it, so as to overcome it. Acceptance of what it is, signs to look out for, and how best to help our adolescents suffering from these issues takes precedence over the rest, for our adolescents today, will shape our future tomorrow.