We are often asked, “but is the drug menace such a big problem in Kerala?” To begin with, let’s take a look at the numbers:
Kerala is second only to Punjab in India when it comes to the use and abuse of drugs. The number of children committing suicide are very high. On the side, the number of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse cases are high and are growing steadily. There’s been a 125% increase in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances cases in the last 5 years in Kerala. The average age of initial exposure to gateway substances and illicit drugs is 11- 14 years. 3.1 crore people in India reported having used any cannabis product in the past 12 months. About 25 lakh people suffer from cannabis dependence. 2.26 crore people use opioids. 274 districts in India are listed as vulnerable by the National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction – but there are no prevention programs to address this across the country.
The sad part is that there are no effective functional models or facilities yet for recovery, rehab and deaddiction programs focused on children and adolescents. And to make matters worse, there is an increasing social acceptance of the use of substances and narcotics – especially with more and more countries legalizing the use of recreational drugs.
The biggest stumbling block is the simple fact that we underestimate how well children understand problems and solutions. So, the answer lies in connecting with children, in helping them understand the reality behind what is very often glamourized by adults in movies as well as in real life. And our experience has taught us that if approached the right way, it is quite easy to empower children with the ability to say a firm “NO” to drugs. In fact, in less than a decade, we’ve positively impacted the lives of well over 1.2 lakh children, many of whom are ambassadors for the cause that they now believe in firmly. .
Our children live in a world where lifestyle norms are being created by people with vested interests. Children need to understand these lifestyle norms in the light of wellness over pleasure, health over high, misinformation over truth. They need to be given the right tools to resist peer pressure. And most importantly, we need to identify and create the right sporting and adventure avenues for them to channelize their energy and help them realize that this “high” is far healthier and more rewarding than the other. Only a community that works together can effectively phase out the use of substances – including alcohol and nicotine – and make it into a health standard, as seatbelts are for vehicles or vaccination is for children. This is all the more important because we have not yet given adequate importance to health in the curriculum or in daily life.
To know what is happening to children, take a look at a few real-life narratives from the city of Kochi in Kerala.