Drug abuse and narcotics trafficking is a cause of concern to any nation due to the significant negative effect they have on individuals, families, and societies. In Kuwait, the use of drugs and other narcotic substances pose a serious threat that, despite the stigma attached to it, needs to be acknowledged and addressed by the authorities urgently.

Drug abuse impacts the country on multiple facets; it diminishes social stability, undermines economic development, and erodes education and development of human resources.

Last week, as part of an awareness campaign to prevent drug abuse titled ‘Weyak’, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) urged parents to inform concerned authorities if their children use drugs, so that they can be treated, cared for, and rehabilitated without criminal accountability.

The Weyak campaign, held in partnership with the MoI’s General Department for Drug Control, and in cooperation with state entities and civil society organizations, was launched on 26 June, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (IDADAIT). The main focus of the campaign was on creating public awareness about the perils of drugs to society, and emphasizing the role of family and educational institutions in promoting concepts to protect young adults and children from the destructive menace of drugs.

The vulnerability of young children makes them a particularly easy target for drug traffickers and pedalers. A survey in 2019 by US-based Randox Laboratories, a market leader in advancing forensic, clinical and workplace toxicology, outlined the alarming prevalence of drug use among adolescent boys in Kuwait. The survey of 1,310 boys between the ages of 13-16 found that 90 of them had used illicit drugs in the past, with half of these reporting drug use before the age of 12.

The distressing statistics on drug usage among secondary school children is only indicative of the wider drug usage and addiction in society. To put this usage figure in perspective, it needs to be viewed against the backdrop of a country which, despite having some of the strictest laws against drug possession, also has, by conservative estimates, around 20,000 drug addicts.

Though the law against drug abuse is stringent — trafficking and possession of even the smallest amount of illicit substances can result in long prison sentences or even life imprisonment — it has obviously not detracted drug pedalers or users. Sadly, most of the drug abusers and traffickers are citizens, and as such, the onus of culpability in the spread of drugs cannot be shifted on to expatriates.

Latest statistics from the MoI show that in 2021 the Anti-Narcotics Department registered 2,360 narcotics cases involving 2,990 suspects, many of whom were nationals. This was a hike of nearly 30 percent in narcotic cases from a year earlier, when there were 1,825 cases and 2,489 suspects.

Also, last week, a day after International day against drugs, customs officials at the airport seized within a span of 48 hours several narcotics products, including marijuana, hashish, alcoholic drinks, and 278 narcotic Lyrica pills, in addition to cocaine and cannabis oil, from passengers trying to smuggle these illegal substances into the country.

The emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and its accompanying travel restrictions may have curtailed cross-border smuggling. But drug traffickers apparently evolved their tactics and become more creative in the delivery of drugs. For instance, in September 2020, Kuwait’s anti-narcotics department arrested a man, whose identity was not revealed, for using a drone to smuggle in drugs from a neighboring country. The drone was found to carry four kilogram of amphetamine and one kilogram of hashish.

While the authorities have regularly seized drugs at the airport and border crossings, this was reportedly the first time that a drone was used to smuggle in drugs. The increased use of sophisticated technology in smuggling drugs, as well as the post-pandemic easing of restrictions on travel, has allowed the illegal drug industry to bounce back in Kuwait, and in some places exceed their pre-pandemic operations.

It is evident that drug usage and its trafficking is on the rise in the country, and Kuwait can no longer be considered just a transit point for drug trafficking, it has become a destination for drug consignments. Security personnel and sociologists say that several reasons can be attributed to the increase in supply of and demand for drugs. These range from a breakdown in social alignment, reduced family and community cohesiveness, a rise in unemployment and underemployment, as well as economic and social marginalization and increased crime.

The struggle of coping with the social isolation or death of a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis has also been cited as a reason for some people turning to drugs for emotional support. Whatever the reason behind the increased drug usage, denying or ignoring the existence of this menace to society is not going to make it go away. We need to confront, combat and defeat the plague of drugs and other narcotics in society, the earlier the better..

A widely recognized strategy that has proven successful in tackling the spread of drugs and its abuse in society employs a coordinated four-pronged holistic approach that involves education and social involvement, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. The strategy calls for education and social involvement to raise awareness of the dangers of drugs; prevention by security apparatuses to curb drug trafficking; clinical and psychological treatment for drug addiction, and finally rehabilitation to ease the reentry of drug victims to society.

In particular, education and social involvement are seen as key to preventing drug abuse among children, raising awareness in society, and providing help and support to those afflicted with drug addiction. In this regard the 37th conference of the National Awareness Project for Drug Prevention (Ghiras) held last week under the title, ‘Kuwaiti Trainers Without Borders’, and organized in cooperation with the International Organization for Women Empowerment and Capacity Building, and support from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), is certainly laudatory.

President of the conference and CEO of Ghiras, Dr. Ahmed Al-Shatti stressed that “the fight against drugs is a societal responsibility in which everyone needs to take part.” Revealing the latest available statistics on drug addiction, Dr. Al-Shatti said that there are more than 20,000 active files on drug patients with the Ministry of Health, He added that this number could be more, as people or their families are reluctant to report cases of drug addiction due to social stigma, or fear that it might impact their chances of job appointment or promotion in the workplace.

Even more disconcerting is that many of the addicts admitted to the addiction treatment center are young adults or adolescents. Doctors point out that adolescence is a time when enormous changes take place in the process of a child’s normal development. It is a time that they develop a sense of self-identity, but this often comes at the cost of dissociating from parental attachments and values, and seeking new social ties and values that are aligned with that of their peer groups.

Nevertheless, the importance of family in preventing drug abuse among children cannot be overemphasized. Studies have shown that families are a powerful influence in shaping the attitudes, values and behavior of children, especially when they are young. But as they grow up into adolescents, peer group influence usually tends to override the influence of parents, particularly whenparents abdicate their traditional supervisory role as guardians.

Among the reasons cited for parents shirking their parental responsibilities are, traumatic divorces; stress from household instability, loss of employment; communication failure on an emotional level; or one or both partners evading family stress and vulnerabilities by seeking solace in drugs. No matter what the reason for neglecting their parental responsibility to children, the end result is that it pushes many adolescents into the grip of peers who may be into drugs.

On the preventive side, the authorities employ a law and order approach that emphasizes harsher enforcement and penalties for drug abuse and trafficking, as well as control measures such as interdiction of drugs, and the interception and incarceration of traffickers. However, prevention is often seen as only a short-term remedy to the problem of drug abuse.

What is more sustainable and needed over the long-term is a demand reduction strategy that begins with education. But given the prevailing drug usage situation in the country, both short-term measures and long-term strategies have to be considered, not separately but as two ends of a continuum that needs to be tackled simultaneously.

Realizing the destructive effects that drugs have on society, Kuwait issued Law 74/1983 entitled ‘Narcotics and their utilization and trafficking’. Article 2 of Law 74/1983 states that it is not permissible to produce, import, export, or deliver drugs or drug making materials, as well as acquire, trade, manufacture, or transport drugs.The law also stipulates heavy fines of up to KD20,000 and or prison terms, including life imprisonment or death sentence on a person convicted of trafficking in narcotic substances.

Despite these early laws and stringent penalties, drug abuse continues to be rife in the country, probably this is a reflection of a trend observed worldwide.The latest annual World Drug Report prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) showed that in 2019, an estimated 275 million people worldwide aged 15–64, had used drugs at least once in the previous year. The report also revealed that in 2019 drug misuse led to the death of almost half a million people, while drug use disorders resulted in 18 million years of healthy life lost.

In her message on the occasion of this year’s IDADAIT, Executive Director of UNODC Ghada Waly said that the UN entity remained committed to providing care and support to the people affected by illicit drugs, no matter the circumstances. She added, ”Everyone has a role to play, from governments to civil society to individuals, in bringing the necessary attention and resources to this issue, and we stand ready to work with all of you. Let us show those who need us that we care, by providing the care that they need in these times of crisis. Together, we can tackle the world drug problem.”

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