KARACHI: The United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Tuesday launched a five-month drug prevention campaign in nine districts of Sindh, officials said at a programme held in Governor House.

The campaign was launched in collaboration with the ministry of interior and narcotics control and supported by the Bureau of International Narcotics and & Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) of the US Department of State at a programme in which Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad was the chief guest.

The organisers said the drive was being implemented mainly in nine cities of Sindh — Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah, Jacobabad and Khairpur.

They said the overall aim of the campaign was to raise public awareness of drugs and their harmful effects on individuals, families and society at large with chief focus on youth in educational institutions, teachers, parents and religious leaders.

The campaign has been designed keeping in view the results of the UNODC drug use in Pakistan 2013 survey. According to the survey, it is estimated that six per cent of the population in Pakistan, or 6.7 million people aged between 15 and 64 used drugs in the year the survey was conducted.

Of these, 4.25 million people are thought to be suffering from drug use disorders and drug dependence, reporting significant challenges in controlling or reducing their use and experiencing negative personal consequences as a result.

Sindh has the second highest prevalence rate of cannabis use in the country, ie 4.3 per cent of the population uses cannabis, and an estimated 570,000 people in Sindh used opioids during previous years. Of these, 66pc used prescription opioids (painkillers) and 34pc used heroin, opium or both. Almost 100,000 drug users in Sindh are estimated to be injecting drugs, primarily opiates. Prevalence estimates for the use of tranquilisers and sedatives in Sindh is comparable with that of Punjab while the use of amphetamine-type stimulants is not as high as in the rest of the country.

The organisers said apart from the ministry of interior and narcotics control, the Sindh government was well in the loop on informing people about hazards of drugs in the campaign through electronic and print media, billboards with drug prevention messages in local languages at strategic locations in target cities, broadcasting of drug prevention messages and talk shows on FM radio and local TV stations.

It will also include drug prevention education sessions with schoolchildren, teachers and religious scholars, and establishment of a helpline to offer access to drug information and facilitation for drug treatment services.

The Sindh governor said launch of the drug awareness campaign in Sindh should be the first step in the direction of drug use prevention and its social, psychological, economic and physical effects.

He said drugs were huge source of funding for militancy and to root it out the Sindh government had launched a massive operation against drug peddlers and terrorists under the National Action Plan besides taking other steps to reduce drug demand in the province.

He also ensured the provincial government’s full support for the campaign.

Ghalib Bandesha, secretary of the narcotics control division, ministry of interior and narcotics control, said preventing drug use before it began was the most cost-effective and common-sense approach to promoting safe and healthy communities.

He said young people deserved every opportunity to live up to their full potential and exposure to effective drug prevention messages helped their chances to live a healthy life.

Cesar Guedes, representative of UNODC, said the widespread availability of drugs in Pakistan was making it easy for people especially youth to experiment and become dependent on drugs.

He said the social and economic impacts of drug use on families, society and the country were enormous, which further increased the burden on health services related to drug treatment and the treatment of drug-associated diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Cricketer Shahid Afridi also spoke.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2015

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