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Helping young people overcome drug addiction

© UNICEF Malaysia
© Ministry of Education Malaysia/2008
Students from SMK Klebang Besar secondary school in Malacca, central Malaysia, participate in a school event to raise awareness about HIV prevention as part of a UNICEF and Ministry of Education program to introduce life skills-based education in schools.

By Tee Shiao Eek

KUALA LUMPUR, 22 July 2009 – Sharkozy (not his real name) began living the 'high society' life 10 years ago, when he started experimenting with marijuana and Erimin-5 with the local boys in his neighbourhood. He then spent the next three years dabbling in various illegal substances, including heroin and morphine.

His drug use took him from intense highs to extreme lows. But in the end, the high could not last. Wary of what the drugs would turn him into, he decided to stop. Now in his mid-twenties, Sharkozy is drug-free and works as a businessman in Kuala Lumpur.

"I can see things more clearly now," he says. "I value my life and want to be able to achieve more."

Curiosity leads to abuse

Like many other young people, Sharkozy was simply curious about drugs when he began using them. "I just wanted to try it. I thought, if drugs are bad, why would people take them?" he recalls.

As UNICEF Representative in Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Youssouf Oomar points out, young people often begin experimenting with illicit drugs during their transition from adolescence to young adulthood.

In Malaysia, the National Anti-Drug Agency reported in 2008 that two of the top reasons teenagers cited for using drugs were peer influence and curiosity. Mr. Youssouf cautions that such experimentation can lead to abuse, as young people are less able to evaluate the dangers or likely consequences of their behaviour.

"If they have not properly developed their coping mechanisms or problem-solving skills, those who start out as simply 'experimenting' are likely to be more vulnerable to drug abuse," he explains.

'You are not human'

With each new drug he tried, Sharkozy descended further into an uncontrollable spiral of physical, emotional and mental deterioration.

© UNICEF Malaysia
© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Nadchatram
Young people often begin experimenting with illicit drugs during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, when they are less able to evaluate the dangers or likely consequences of their behaviour.

While he was hooked on heroin and morphine, he also experimented with a range of other drugs, including ecstasy, Erimin-5 (also called 'Happy 5'), ketamine, LSD and mushrooms, which altered his behaviour and emotions in different ways. The most severe effects came from methamphetamines (also known as syabu or 'ice'), which come under a group of drugs classified as amphetamine-type stimulants.

"You are not human when you take these drugs," he says. "You can't sleep or eat, you only feel good during the high period. During the 'downtime' you'll get very tired but you can't sleep.

"Heroin and morphine create a wonderful feeling, but the problem is what the drugs turn you into. They are very addictive, and withdrawal causes fever, bone ache, sleepless nights, chills and pain," he adds.

For Sharkozy, there was no doubt that the drugs controlled his life. He was often rude and aggressive towards his parents, had mood swings and always felt the urge to get into fights.

Life skills-based education

"All drugs are dangerous, whether they are conventional types of drugs like marijuana, opiates and cocaine, or new designer drugs like ketamine, 'ice' and Erimin-5," says Sharkozy.

"Young people who start to do drugs for the first time are not aware that drugs can turn their world upside down," notes Mr. Youssouf.  "Instead of leaving them vulnerable to fall into the trap of drugs, we need to guide them to lead healthy lifestyles."

Young people have the right to information that will help them make responsible decisions. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to introduce life skills-based education into schools – and training secondary school teachers nationwide on personal and social development, as well as prevention of drug abuse and HIV infection.

Last year, 80 teachers received the training, enabling them to reach out to at least 3,000 students with skills and values that help them take control of their lives.

Rehabilitation and therapy

Sharkozy was able to get off drugs with the help of his parents, who sent him to rehabilitation and therapy.

"Of course my parents were upset when they found out I was taking drugs, but they also had high hopes for me," he says.

Ultimately, Sharkozy realized that drugs did not fit into where he wanted to go in life – towards a future of hope and success.

 

 
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