Romeo’s tragic death is romanticized to this day, whereby the pain of losing Juliet is so intense that he decides to take his own life with poison. Devdas, on the other hand, seeks refuge in alcohol, allowing himself to live in a delusional world, rather than facing the reality of having lost Paaro forever. What both these tragic heroes lack is the ability to face reality, thereby letting life consume them altogether. Such is the story of our Pakistani heroin addicts.
Pakistan has about 860,000 chronic heroin users, besides cannabis and opium being the other commonly used opiates. Heroin causes a temporary high, with short-term euphoric feelings, along with pain relief, relaxation and drowsiness. Side effects such as grogginess, slower heart rate, nausea and headaches occur with heroin. However, chronic users may experience various organ disorders, mental health issues and cancers of the brain and body. Some of these include liver disease, pulmonary infections, collapsed veins, chronic constipation, depression, kidney disease heart infections skin infections, HIV, deterioration of white matter in the brain, lack of stress-control skills, infertility (in women), miscarriage and even impotency.
Furthermore, heroin addicts often end up with hepatitis, due the constant use of unsterilized needles. Hepatitis B and C are transmitted to the body in various ways, usually through the skin. Reused needles are among the main causes for the spread of the viruses. The use of infected needles is a common malpractice in Pakistan. Therefore, contaminated needles used for heroin are the reason why millions of Pakistani’s are diagnosed with hepatitis each year.
About 11 percent of the entire Khyber Pakhtunkhwa population use drugs. Various geographical, social and political factors are at play here. Firstly, it shares the border with Afghan provinces that have extensive opium-poppy fields. Secondly, the adjoining Khyber tribal areas are full of heroin-processing labs.
Furthermore, due to the taliban influence and mujahideen insurgency across the Afghanistan Pakistan border, the city is steeped in lawlessness and corruption. Narcotics and drugs are just one of the many things on the long list of crimes that are easily neglected by the government.
One cannot be completely sure as to why such a high percentage of the population use drugs. Common reasons often include depression whereby heroin becomes a temporary escape. Some say it sparks creativity and energizes the mind. Others say it gives them courage and allows them freedom to express themselves. However, all the above reasons are more or less general. In Pakistan, the two major reasons for using drugs are peer pressure and religious misconceptions.
Peer pressure is one of the major reasons of addiction. Research shows that most young people use with the intention of maintaining an image among peers. For boys especially, drugs are a way of feeling more masculine. Furthermore, schools, colleges and universities have no way of monitoring heroin since the guards, drivers and staff members all use themselves. In a country where institutions do not see the harm in using, there is no surprise in the fact that young adults are openly and freely becoming addicted.
The second reason is the misconceptions and misinterpretations of Islamic teachings. Many addicts in Pakistan find ways of justifying heroin, believing that it is a religiously and socially acceptable act. As a matter of fact, Islam forbids not just alcohol, but also intoxicants, which go side by side with gambling. “Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?” [Quran: 5:91].
In conclusion, Pakistan is steeped in so many other social, economic and political issues that drugs such as heroin seem to be a small problem. The matter is casually tossed aside as a lost cause that comes way at the end of the priority list.