It started with a single puff of hashish but young Muhammad Adnan* didn’t stop there. The occasion was his elder sister’s wedding in Parachinar, part of the erstwhile Khyber Agency. Amidst the wedding festivities, one night Adnan and his friends decided to smoke up.
“I was in class seven back then,” relates Adnan, now a 16-year-old young man. “Not only adults and elders but children of primary and secondary classes also use drugs in our area, particularly hashish, to relax themselves.”
Young Adnan lost his mother in his tender years and his siblings brought him up. Although they kept his secret for many months, Adnan’s father soon came to know about his drug usage. The father decided to shift him to a school in Peshawar to protect him from drugs. Little did the father realise that he was taking his son out of the frying pan and pushing him into the fire.
“[Back home] I was only smoking cannabis,” says Adnan, “but once I moved to Peshawar, I started using other drugs, including crystal myth. Till now, I have used opium, hashish, heroin and ice.”
Such exposure to drugs at such a young age is not uncommon in the country.
Three young men turned to ice as a coping mechanism. This is their tale of finding life only for life to be squeezed out of them later …
But while the other drugs have been around for a while, ice is a relatively new phenomenon that seems to have taken off among young people. Ice comes as small clear chunky crystals; variants include a brownish crystal-like power with a stronger smell and bitter taste.
The effects of the drug, when smoked, hit a person immediately. When injected, it takes 15 to 30 seconds for the body to register the impact. Snorting ice takes around three to five minutes for the euphoria to kick in while swallowing takes 15 to 20 minutes.
The drug results in powerful euphoric episodes with increased energy, feelings of invulnerability and pleasure, confidence, and an increased sex drive. These can last for up to 12 hours. But the immediate ‘high’ from the drug fades quickly. And many users often take repeated doses in a “binge and crash” pattern.
Once the euphoria wears off, the user is hit by symptoms including enlarged pupils and a dry mouth, excessive sweating, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and body temperature, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath and reduced appetite. Psychologically, a person experiences paranoia, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, depression and impulsive behaviour.
The abuse of the recreational drug leads to long-term effects that shape a person’s personality and behaviour. Individuals who have abused methamphetamine for significant periods of time may suffer a number of permanent neurological and cognitive effects.
But in the exuberance of youth, young people such as Adnan have taken to ice as a method of putting their minds at ease.
“Students who don’t have enough money use hashish,” says the teenager, “while others prefer ice.”
In a twist of sorts, Adnan and his friends would head back to Khyber tribal district to score their drugs. They would use different strategies to deceive security personal at the Khyber tribal district boundary. Sometimes they would tear their jackets and conceal their drugs there. But when security checks would be stringent, they would tie their drug packets to a stone and throw them to the other side of the security picket. Once they cleared security checks, they’d simply pick the stones and return to school.
Adnan is currently under treatment at a private rehabilitation centre in Islamabad as he attempts to rediscover part of his childhood that went to waste with ice.
Similar is the tale of Abbottabad-based Taimoor Khan*, now 18. He was studying in class 10 when he fell victim to drug abuse. Khan doesn’t belong to an underprivileged background; he is the son of an educated and conscientious man. But for the past one-and-a-half years, he has dabbled in ice.
“Becoming happy in life was a driving factor behind my use of drugs,” says Khan.
The teenager revealed that he’d often wonder why his classmates always seemed happy despite sharing the same workload at school as he did. When he asked one of his fellow students the secret to his contentment, he was told that narcotics heal pain and stress. Khan soon started smoking and later on, fell prey to ice.
“The managements in top-level institutions play an important role in spreading the menace of drugs,” argues Khan. “Teachers often have a discriminatory attitude. They pay more attention to brilliant students and ignore the others.”
In the teenager’s experience, such attitudes create insecurity and undue pressure on students.
“Dull students are more vulnerable to drugs,” argues Khan. For him, studies-related stress was a main contributing factor.
He says he was told that students tend to study better when they are on drugs but his experience was quite bitter — instead of improving his grades, his performance nosedived.
Now in rehab, Khan fears that returning to college would again turn his mind towards drugs. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop friends from this abuse. But while I cannot change the system, at the very least I can secure myself from drug abuse.”
Recent times have seen an alarming rise in the number of cases of ice drug abuse on campuses. Last year a young woman studying at a private college was reported unconscious to the police. She was rushed to the hospital because of the excessive bleeding from her nasal cavity. To the family’s astonishment, what they considered to be a medical condition was caused because of an overdose of crystal meth in the college lavatory.
Perhaps most saddening are cases where young people feel that ice can alleviate depression and help them score better on examinations.
“I began smoking ice without realising I would get addicted,” says Danyal,* an engineering student at the Peshawar University. “It was easily available and everyone knew about it so I thought it was kosher.”
Danyal proceeds to defend his addiction: “It has helped me in preparing for my examinations because I can stay awake for longer.” Asked if he wants to quit, he replies bluntly: “Once I have my degree in hand.”
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.
Additional reporting by Iftikhar Firdous
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 3rd, 2019