We are struggling to stop the entry of pharmaceutical drugs from abroad. Various methods have been employed over the years but substance abuse among the most vulnerable group of our society—youth—continues to grow. Somewhere we are getting it wrong and more needs to be done.

According to education ministry’s career education and counselling division (CECD), most substance abuse cases related to young people (between the ages of between 13 and 18) were experimental and habitual use. Going by the CECD record, more than 521 students from 96 schools were either referred to or had sought voluntary counselling for substance use. A total of 257 of the students availed of counselling services voluntarily; 164 were referred to counsellor by the discipline committee of the school, teachers, parents, and friends. In a situation like this, counselling or early intervention and support are critically important.

Effective control mechanisms have to be found urgently. It is our shared responsibility. At the same time, we must provide adequate treatment and rehabilitation services to those who are already affected by addiction. Not giving enough attention to the problem of substance abuse just because it isn’t big compared with that of other countries is society copping out. We cannot afford that. Consequences will be expensive. As health experts warn, we cannot be complacent. Addiction is a medical disorder and it is affecting youth in their prime age. We are talking about the nation’s future and burden on the economy.

One of the main reasons why we are failing in this enterprise is lack of adequate facilities and trained professionals to treat and rehabilitate individual who are affected by drugs. Jails do not have rehabilitation services. So, instead of reforming them, we could be paving a way for them to be hardcore criminals in the future. The lurking danger is that the problem threatens to spread and grow.

Experts tell us that addiction is a lifelong disorder. Detoxification and treatment is only the beginning of the treatment. Individuals with addiction problem need essential skills to help them live a sober life. We must create safe environment for them to return to. Currently, there are only three rehab centres in the country that provide rehab and treatment for only about 300 individuals in a year. Is more rehab centres in the country the answer to the growing substance abuse problem?

Maybe not, but it is certainly a better option than criminalising young people with punitive laws.