Either we are not doing enough or we are not doing it right. But we seem to have gone wrong somewhere in our fight against drugs and alcohol.

Findings from the recent drug use survey tell us that drug and alcohol abuse is rampant among students. One in two students drink alcohol; one in five abuse cannabis; and one in six abuse solvents.

Narcotics and health officials say these findings are alarming and need urgent attention. Concerns over increasing cases of substance abuse tend to get attention when international days on tobacco or drugs are observed. At other times, not so much.

This week, however, we saw contradictory concerns expressed by different government agencies. When the press met the cabinet last week, the prime minister said drug abuse arrests are not alarming. Two days later, health minister said that increasing cases of drug abuse and illicit trafficking need to be addressed urgently. Narcotics control officials called on authorities to realise the urgency of dealing with the situation before it overwhelms the country.

From what the figures reveal, the situation is already overwhelming. We hear reports of our detention centres being overcrowded and rehabilitation centres unable to accommodate more ‘clients.’ The government is willing to provide legal aid to those who are convicted. We blame parents for not taking care of their children and giving them unreasonable amount of pocket money when access to controlled substances is not curbed.

We understand that we are dealing with a complex situation. We are aware that lives are at stake. But in addressing it, we cannot afford to remain confused. We cannot say that the findings are alarming but not serious. We cannot accept the rhetoric of being concerned but not alarmed from our policy makers.

Increased arrests may be a result of law enforcers cracking down hard on the crime. But it also indicates how rampant the use and abuse of controlled substances is. The age of initiation shows that our efforts must be targeted in middle and higher secondary schools, and there is a need for agencies that are trained and equipped to deal with this situation to reach a consensus. Taking solace in the low rate of dependence on controlled substances in the country smacks of complacency, not urgency.

As a society, we are fighting a losing battle against drugs and alcohol. We are numbed if we ask to be alarmed. We have become indifferent when findings of tobacco use are kept from the people, all because we were honoured. This must change.  It is in national interest that public health issues must be given priority. Abuse of controlled substances is a national issue. The lives of youth, our hope, our future, is at stake.