As we walked into the room, eight pairs of eyes turned to us. Sunk in sallow faces some had a flicker of hope in them while some seemed lost. Their owners sat on their respective beds, neatly arranged to fill the narrow room. There was hardly any space to stand in the white-walled, hospital-ward-looking room where the smell of human sweat permeated above all else. Yet, for some reason, all these things didn't matter because the look in their eyes spoke not only a mixture of deprivation, silent war and hope but also expressed gratitude every time they looked at our guide.
I, accompanied by twelve other Anti-Drug Ambassadors for the Ministry of Narcotics Control, visited the Model Addiction Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (MARTC), Islamabad yesterday. Other than being informative, the visit also left a deep impression on my mind. For some reason, it reminded me of the time when I went to the General Hospital in Rawalpindi to help the 2005 earthquake-affected victims that had been brought there from the Northern parts of the country. The same stifling heat, sense of loss and depressing atmosphere. The difference was that those people were there due to a natural calamity, yet these people were here due to a self-inflicted disease – that of drug addiction. Whether it was forced on them by peer pressure, or they were drawn to it to make up for whatever was missing in their lives, what upset me was that these people didn’t need to be there. It’s all a matter of saying “No!” when you still have the chance.
While walking through the scantily furnished rooms of the Center, we criticized the oppressive environment and the impact it might be having on the inhabitants. However, every room we walked into, some of the patients readily greeted us by either smiling and, in the case of one teenager who was suffering with schizophrenia as a result of hashish addiction, rushed forward to shake hands with us. One could not help but be touched by the gratitude that the inhabitants made a point of showing to the doctors and staff that were aiding them in their path to recovery. It is so easy for us to criticize our establishment for all the problems in society, yet when they make an initiative, how many of us draw forward to help? As I looked at the bare walls of the rooms, I could think of so many ways in which young people, volunteers or interns can contribute in brightening up the place and make it homely for the inhabitants. The suggestions we made were appreciated but where are the people to do it? The centre we visited was catering to roughly 35-40 drug addicts, a small number, yet the fact that even this small number was getting this support in recovering from a disease which could have even been fatal for them goes a long way in helping these people. I tried to absorb all the information that we were being given on the various stages of rehabilitation and treatment and at the same time my head spun, searching for ways to help, trying to understand the circumstances that lead those people to where they were.
Those responsible for the spiritual grooming of our people, our religious scholars and maulvis, are so busy figuring out where Jihad is valid and where not, that they so easily overlook the more preferred Jihad bin Nafs (War with self) which forms the essence of one’s spirituality. People tend to be drawn towards crutches like cigarettes, alcohol, and most of all illicit drugs to make up for something that is lacking within. That something which society and its mentors play a great part in making up for. Though most of the patients at the MARTC admitted that they were drawn to illicit drugs due to peer pressure, isn’t it mainly due to a weakness within ourselves that we are so easily lead into doing something that we know to be so destructive to our lives? This doesn’t only mean that there is something lacking on the part of the individual but also reflects on the condition of our society. Like someone very aptly said, “No drug, not even alcohol causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” These were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I looked at the patients at the Center fighting everyday against an addiction that could’ve so easily been prevented. That can still be prevented if we work together to nurture a society that is not only aware, but also supports and understands each others’ needs.
The author is an Anti-Drug Ambassador for the Ministry of Narcotics Control. The Anti-Drug Ambassadors are a group of young people from diverse backgrounds dedicated to the cause of eradicating or reducing significantly the impact of illicit drug use amongst the youth of Pakistan.