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Do drugs control your life?

© UNICEF Malaysia/2006
Young clubbers with anti-drug messages at the launch of "Keep the Music Clean" with UNICEF, Zouk KL, Grey Global Group and in 2006.

26 June 2009 – International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Concerned by the increasing use of amphetamine-type stimulants by young people, UNICEF Malaysia exposes the ugly side of party and recreational drugs.

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 June 2009 – A huddle at the corner, a brief exchange of money, and 24 year-old Xan (not his real name) is ready to party to his Friday night routine of music and Ecstasy.

Between the heart-pumping electro beats and the dizzying lights, he can hardly tell where the euphoria of the music ends and the effects of the drug begin. But when asked about the ill-effects of Ecstasy abuse, he simply shrugs carelessly and brushes it off.

“Young people are most vulnerable to drugs, particularly during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood when they begin experimenting with illicit drugs,” said Mr Youssouf Oomar, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei.

Mr Youssouf highlighted the dangerous impact of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) – which include ecstasy, metamphetamines (crystal, syabu and ice) and amphetamines (speed) – as they are closely associated with the clubbing scene and have come to embody a modern and fashionable lifestyle among young people.

The designer drugs scene

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that approximately 25 million people worldwide consumed ATS in 2006, with Asia driving the demand . In Malaysia, the National Anti-Drug Agency reported that ATS were the second most common type of drugs consumed after the opiates group (including heroin, morphine, codein and opium) in 2008 .

Marginalised youth, particularly those facing problems of unemployment, neglect, violence and sexual abuse, are often those who are most susceptible to the lure of drugs. Their vulnerability increases if they are surrounded by rapid social, economic and cultural change, yet frequently lack adequate family and community care and support.

However, Mr Youssouf pointed out that drug abuse is also occurring among socially integrated young people, who are increasingly being exposed to a popular youth culture that is more tolerant towards the use of “recreational” drugs.

A deadly experiment

For many young people around the world, drug use starts out as experimentation during a phase of rebellion or as part of the search for identity and independence.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/C.Liddall
Young people who start out experimenting with drugs can fall into the trap of drug abuse, as they are less able to evaluate the dangers of their behaviour. Here, a young Mat Rempit shows off on his bike. Mat Rempits are a group at risk of drug abuse.

In Malaysia, it was found that the top three reasons for drug use reported in 2008 were peer influence, fun and curiosity (these three factors made up 90% of the drug users documented in 2008) .

Mr Youssouf cautioned that experimentation could lead to abuse, as young people are less able to evaluate the dangers and to judge the 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 explained.

Experimental use of drugs, including ATS, marijuana, heroin, cocaine and inhalants, can be harmful to the physical and mental development of a young person. It also interferes with schooling and social development, destroys a young person’s opportunities for later life, and increases their vulnerability to sexual exploitation and risk behaviour.

Certain forms of drugs that can be injected, such as crystal metamphetamine (also called ice, syabu or crystal meth), heroin and morphine, lead to the risk of HIV infection through sharing contaminated needles. In Malaysia, injecting drug use is the most common method of HIV transmission, affecting many young people from age 13 to 29 years.

Prevention among young people

This year, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking focuses on the destructive effects of illicit drugs on young people and the community. The theme “Do Drugs Control Your Life?” compels everyone to think about the vicious trap created by drugs, harming individuals, families and society at large. 

“The drug crop and drug cartels control farmers, while trafficking and drug-related crimes control communities. But most importantly, drugs control the bodies and minds of young people who get trapped in it,” said Mr Youssouf.

Young people have the right to access information that will help them make responsible decisions. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to introduce Life Skills-Based Education into schools, by training secondary school teachers nationwide on personal and social development, as well as prevention of health and social problems, such as drug abuse and HIV infection. Last year, 80 teachers received training, enabling them to reach out to at least 3,000 students to equip them with skills and values that help them take control of their lives.

“We need to guide young people to lead healthy lifestyles, instead of leaving them vulnerable to fall into the trap of drugs,” Mr Youssouf concluded.


    1. 2008 World Drug Report, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
    2. Laporan Dadah Jan-Dis 2008, Agensi Antidadah Kebangsaan (Drug Report Jan-Dec 2008, National Antidrug Agency)



ABOUT amphetamine-type substances
Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are a group of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. They include metamphetamines, amphetamines and ecstasy (MDMA). The most common forms of ATS in South-East Asia are methamphetamine tablets, powder and crystals, although ecstasy are also used in most countries.

ATS are often perceived as being less harmful than cocaine or heroin because they are commonly swallowed instead of being injected or smoked. However, these substances are far from harmless. While users may feel more confident, sociable and energetic, they can quickly become dependent on the drugs and suffer serious mental health problems and even brain damage. Paranoia, kidney failure, violence and internal bleeding are only some of the side effects.

Synthetic drugs carry the additional risk of adulteration. In an effort to cheaply mimic the effects of ecstasy, fake ecstasy pills may contain dangerous mixtures of metamphetamines and ketamine (a type of hallucinogen). To find out more, visit

ABOUT International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking
International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed on 26 June every year to remind the international community to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse. The theme for 2009 “Do Drugs Control Your Life?” is aimed at raising awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to society and especially to young people. To find out more, visit

ABOUT UNICEF and its work with young people
UNICEF works with and for adolescents to involve them in life-affirming activities, so that they are able to flourish and contribute to their communities. UNICEF supports the empowerment of young people so that they can educate their peers about life's challenges and the dangers of high-risk behaviours. To find out more about UNICEF’s efforts to facilitate the active and substantive participation of young people, visit


Indra Kumari Nadchatram
(603) 2095 9157 • (+6) 013 366 3452

Shiao Eek, Tee
(603) 2095 9154 • (+6) 012 207 0138

Faradiza Zahri
(603) 2095 9154



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