Sahibzada Mayed Ali Khan - With the largest city of the country being classified as one of the worst places to live, the general populace longs for an escape: an escape from the harsh reality they are forced to face everyday.

This escape, in its cheapest form, comes as part of an illegal trade prevalent across not only the slums but the extravagant suburbs of our country as well: drugs.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan is home to over 7.6 million drug addicts, 78% of whom are men and 22% are women.

A survey conducted by the UNODC in 2013 showed cannabis to be the most widely used drug in Pakistan, with over 4 million users. Furthermore, it was discovered that around 800,000 Pakistanis between the ages of 15-64 were chronic heroin users. Unravelled recently by the Narcotics Control Division, Pakistan is believed to consume about 44 tonnes of processed heroin annually; this illegal drug trade, consequently, generates a handsome 2 billion dollar sum per annum.

As a result, the extent of the drug problem is difficult to measure. An alarming increase in the number of drug addicts by 40000 every year has been reported. Nonetheless, the most disturbing fact still remains that the average age for drug users has fallen to below 24, signifying that from all the strata, the youth is being affected the most. However, the question arises that are they to be blamed for their actions?

Living in a country where increasing economic inequality, derogatory social standards, and child abuse have become a norm of the day, the youth of our nation has been left significantly debilitated and seeks means of escape: drugs. This being proven by recent study conducted by psychologists, which revealed that the prevailing socio-political conditions have a great impact in shaping the overall behaviour and psyche of the youth of our nation.

Therefore, it would be wrong to even consider this problem in isolation from the socio-economic realities that exist or otherwise, to hold the youth responsible for their actions.

Starting from the more modest drugs like pan and gutka, they are eventually entrapped, into using the more harmful ones such as heroin and gutka, by the charm of dealers and 'agents'. These dealers being within the reach of a mere phone call, their numbers being widely distributed across a vast area, from the most esteemed educational institutions and youth hostels all the way down to the slums- of the country. Shockingly, all of this is happening under the prying eyes of the law enforcement agencies. With the given prevailing conditions coupled with the ease of access, why would one not be tempted to give it a go?

While it remains a fat that preventing people from using drus is important, the past few decades have already dealt considerable yet reversible damage. To recognise the major contributor to the increasing number of drug addicts, one fundamental problem of the war against drugs must be recognised: once a person goes down the road of addiction, society refuses to accept him as a part of it. Addicts are treated as criminals and are socially isolated from the community. This isolation leads to further frustration and thus the number of addicts does not see any change. 

While 'efforts' are being made, the problem still remains at large, unsolved. With over 800,000 chronic heroin addicts, treatment is only available for a mere 30000. A survey conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of available treatment options yielded anomalous results. 64% of the survey respondents faced difficulties in gaining access to the required treatment.

Considering the economic inequality and financial situation that persists, 80% complained that the meagre treatment options available were way out of line of their financial reach. With such limited facilities available, can we really put the entire blame of their actions on them?

Imperatively, the drug problem must not be taken to be as the consequence of the misdeed of a single individual but the failure of our society as a whole. Therefore, we must, together, as a nation seek to address this problem. Perhaps we can take inspiration from other countries that have managed to successfully deal with this problem. A perfect example of one such is Switzerland, which with rather a pragmatic approach, managed to overcome it and went from being a heroin den or "The Addict's Haven" in the 1990's to being declared almost heroin-free recently. By adopting an approach that leaned into taboo territory- handing out controlled amounts of drugs to addicts in rehabilitation centres- they aimed to help them reintegrate back into the society. As all attempts thus far have failed in Pakistan, we should consider taking a similar approach and instead of taking down the iron hammer upon them, make them feel that they are still a part of our society and help them to reintegrate. 

While it may seem that this underlying problem of drug abuse is of generations to come, the immediate problem must be dealt with promptly, not by the government and other concerned authorities but rather by the citizens of Pakistan instead. Therefore, it is our duty as a society to work towards resolving this pertinent issue that evidently renders us as a deadweight on our loved ones.

If not us, then who?

 If not now, then when?