LAHORE: Pakistan, once largely poppy free, has now become one of the main drug transit states in the world.

A Technical Summary Report on Drug Use in Pakistan conducted by the UNODC in 2013 stated: “Approximately 6.4 million of the total population, one in every 27 persons uses drugs. Almost 420,000 people in Pakistan, every year, inject themselves with drugs, which kill them not just morally, but physically too.”

“I was nine when I first stole a bottle of whiskey from my father’s room, a Black Label. It was a mere attempt to satisfy my curiosity, to know what it was that he and his friends drank every night. Had it been different and had I not seen him drink, I would not, perhaps, have been an addict,” recalled Zaryab, with a tone we would not very much give away as resentment or remorse.

The 22-year-old son of a government official who long served in the FIA, once a bright student, Zaryab has been recently admitted to a rehabilitation centre. “At 12, I was no more stealing the bottles; I was sharing them with my father.” But it did not end at alcohol, by the time he was 14, the boy was severely addicted to hash.

His legacy never let him have a chance to alter his path. “In O’ levels I had a friend who had her personal drug dealer. She made me addicted to heroin, we were almost eighteen then.” Yes, a girl, if that is what most of you have in mind right now. From nine to twenty-two, he has been addicted to alcohol, opium, hash, heroin, and cocaine, name it and he says yes.

Prior to this, Zaryab had been to five different rehabs, this being the sixth; succumbing to his yearning every time he was thought to be resurrected. Responding to our disbelief, he added, “It does not matter how many rehabs you have been to or how ever formidable the picture of an addict’s life people sketch for you, it will only work when an addict would want to stop of his own accord.”

The long standing association of men with the use of drugs can also count as gender discrimination, given the growing number of female drug addicts in Pakistan. At the rehab there was a man who was made an addict by the woman he loved and later married. “She was in the business of supplying cocaine. I did not know about it until she had me turned into a complete addict.”

When explaining why women do not get linked with drug abuse as often as men, Mr Javed Bhatti, Project Director of the foundation highlighted, “There is no denying the fact that the statistics of women involved in the procurement chain is thrice that of men. Let alone, the ratio of male and female addicts has increased to 60:40.”

One significant reason we do not get to frequently witness women in documentaries on drugs, news reports or the often-happening surveys is the virtually non-existent rehabilitation centres properly designed to deal with female patients.

Ms Aliya Shakeel, psychologist working at the rehab stressed that addiction cannot be simply given away as a habit. “It is a disease. Unfortunately not many of us, even doctors, see it as one.” The most important deduction drawn was that no matter how much you intervene, you cannot change an addict’s behaviour unless they decide that course for them.

“You just have to wait until the addict grows tired of himself,” commented Mr Bhatti.

Fully equipped, adequate rehabs or highly accomplished medics, nothing and no one have it in their power to redeem an addict lest he gets something more important to hold on to. “From where I come every other person is an addict. I came here so these people could help me get rid of this habit, only because my sons are getting big now. I do not want them to realise what their father has been indulged in all his life,” tears rolled down Riaz’s face as he tried to prove himself to be a man of morals.

Residing previously in Okara, a mediocre, Riaz started taking illicit drugs at 13 and is now 45 years old. Never in all his life did he or his family find the need to bring him back to a normal, drug-free life until he was overcome with the fatherly concerns for his sons’ chance at a better life.

Leaving us with no more questions to ask, every case we took had one shared statement to give. The common turn of all the stories was ‘that’ one time when they were encountered by police officials who exchanged their discretion for money and be even more cordial if offered a few grams. If that had not been the case and our unequivocally conscientious officials would have done, for once, what they should had, many of these confined within their own worlds, pulled away from their dreams, could have been living a joyous, social life.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2014

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