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Parents alarmed at rising drug use in schools

Ministry of Interior report claims young users mostly get supplies from elder pupils

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Parents blamed schools for the growing use of drugs among school children and called for adequate programmes to tackle the problem. A recent report warned that the use of drugs in schools is increasing across the UAE.

While some parents said they had removed their children from institutions where drug abuse was believed to be common, others said that school authorities need to do more to create greater awareness about drug risks. They also urged for constant supervision in schools as well as domestic settings.

“Parents must always closely guard their children’s activities and peers, without imposing on their social lives. Those who are concerned should approach school authorities and ask what actions are being taken to stem drug abuse in educational settings,” A.G., a mother-of-five from Australia, told Gulf News.

The report on drug use was released earlier this month as part of the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) 999 magazine. It warned that the average drug user in the UAE is aged 12, and is likely to get drug supplies from older pupils in the same school.

The 999 report also highlighted that drugs like heroin often become available to children as young as 10 years, while abuse of non-prescription medication starts at an average age of 13.

Curfew on children

A.G. said that she had constantly monitored her children while they were attending high school in the capital. “I let my children attend all kinds of social activities, including parties, but there was always a curfew they had to follow. Similarly, whenever my children went for sleepovers, I would always ensure that their friend’s guardians were home at the time,” she added.

Unsupervised parties in the UAE have been known to become dangerous, with children turning to easily available household items such as butane gas canisters, nail polish, paint thinner, etc. that can give a “high” when inhaled. In 2010, a 16-year-old was reported to have died from butane poisoning at a graduation party.

According to the MoI, older pupils often act as drug peddlers and target younger peers. Such dealings are also aided by widespread access to social networks.

“Studies have shown that the lack of parent-children interaction is one of the major reasons blamed for the rise in early drug use. We have to combat drugs as a family, as a peer group, as an educational institution and as a social organisation,” recommended Lieutenant Colonel Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, editor-in-chief of 999.

S.S., a 25-year-old communication executive in the capital, said the matter deserves great attention. “I was educated in a private school in Abu Dhabi. Even back then, a number of our older peers were distributing drugs like heroin among themselves. One boy was also arrested when he was in the ninth grade and imprisoned for a few years,” she reported.

No open discussions

“What was perhaps unhelpful is that our school authorities never discussed the issue openly and did not warn other pupils about the risks of using drugs. As a result, the boy who was arrested became a sort of ‘hero’. Many of the other children never understood the real negative effects of using drugs,” S.S. added.

An Emirati mother who wished to remain anonymous also claimed the problem was rampant at public schools. “In fact, I removed my son from a public school because I came to know that problems like smoking and drug abuse were common in the higher grades,” she added.

A principal at a private school in the capital who declined to be named said the issue of drug use is often highlighted at school assemblies. “Although we have never discovered drug abuse among our pupils, we are still vigilant about these matters. We try to reach out to older pupils, especially boys enrolled in Grades 5 to 12, to ensure that they understand the gravity and negative effects of using drugs,” he told Gulf News.

The principal added that the school also takes a strict stance on pupils’ use of any and all addictive substances, including cigarettes. “In case such a case is discovered, we would immediately bring it to the parents’ notice,” he said.