x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Find ways to keep children off drugs

The problem of illegal drug use by young people, even pre-teens, is cause for concern, but we must not read too much into a few cases.

On the face of it, the report in the Ministry of Interior's magazine 999 is shocking. Drug abusers take up the habit as young as the age of 12; schoolchildren fund their drug habits by selling to younger students; children as young as 10 have been offered heroin. This picture, recounted in The National this week, will strike fear into the hearts of parents. Yet perspective is also in order.

The report in 999 said many young people are initially misled into taking drugs such as tramadol. Later, teenagers and children are offered stronger prescription medicines. That is all too plausible.

Still, the findings are from a survey of an unspecified number of young people. There are surely some preteen drug abusers, but it is important not to extrapolate too far. An official of Dubai Police's anti-narcotics division noted in our story that "individual cases here and there" are not a trend. "The average age for taking up drugs is still between 17 and 18."

Any age is too young. And the idea of children taking heroin is certainly worrying. But the National Rehabilitation Centre suggests that most addictions are to alcohol, tobacco, hashish and painkillers. Any addiction is a problem, to be sure, but the horrors of heroin are on a different level.

Why do young people get into addictive substances? In a short film called Souvenirs from Candy Land, shown at the Gulf Film Festival last week, Emirati filmmaker Amani Alowais shows how boredom and lack of a stable family environment can lead young people in that direction.

This newspaper has long argued that a holistic approach to what young people do with their time would benefit society. Providing spaces where teenagers and preteens could exercise and socialise safely would offer an outlet for their energy and an opportunity to spend time constructively.

More parental involvement in schools would help families keep in better touch, as well as offering teachers an opportunity to communicate to parents concerned about their children, before they get out of hand.

Taking drugs at a young age can have profound negative consequences. A society-wide approach could help to stem this problem.