Early Signs of Social Disruption

The loss of lives at an early stage due to synthetic drug abuse in schools is a tragedy at the level of individual families. If carried forward on a big enough scale, it will pose as a serious threat to social stability itself

In the context of the on-going Commission of Inquiry into the drugs situation in Mauritius, it has come out that synthetic drugs have invaded our educational establishments. This is a new phenomenon, it appears, which is not limited to the outskirts of our towns, as it used to be the case in the past. It is very much present in secondary schools whether in urban or rural areas. Secondary schools particularly in the North and the West of the island had apparently been involved in cases of students having taken to synthetic drugs.

Minister of Health Anil Gayan stated before the Commission that, according to statistics available in his ministry, the problem was not widespread or very consequential. He was soon confronted by contrary opinion to the effect that synthetic drugs were very much present and fairly widespread in our schools.

It would also appear that some 70 synthetic-drug related victims had been admitted to the Brown Sequard Hospital (specialised in mental health care) since the beginning of the year and that as many as 20 would have passed out due to such drug abuse so far. This is a bad record and the problem needs to be addressed firmly before it takes on an uncontrollable dimension and disrupts society at large.

This situation makes it appear that unsuspecting teens are being drawn into the ranks of consumers of synthetic drugs. Admittedly, certain young people may be prone to be trapped into what may be thought of as “experimentation” with the new chemical drugs. But this is not mere experimentation, if it has led to so many deaths. It must be creating dependency and exaggeration of limits. Besides, even classical hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, hashish, etc.) were known to be affecting grown-ups and not school-goers, as appears to be the case at present.

It is obvious also that, just as in the case of classical hard drugs, the demand by school-goers must be met by suppliers. Who are they? What is the motivation behind this trade? Is it only to make profits? Why has the synthetic drug made inroads into schools in particular? Do the peddlers know that young children are vulnerable and that they should be targeted?

In other statements before the Commission, certain witnesses have stated that supply may be coming from the ocean front, a frontier which is more porous than the airport. We have coast guards who are supposed to be on duty day and night. Have they intercepted some suppliers? If so, were thorough enough investigations undertaken to catch the drug peddlers at source in a bid to stop this perverse invasion?

Many questions arise as to whether we have a carefully thought-out system capable of eradicating this new scourge, which has invaded our schools, before it hits society itself on an unmanageable scale. The loss of lives at an early stage due to synthetic drug abuse in schools is a tragedy at the level of individual families. If carried forward on a big enough scale, it will pose as a serious threat to social stability itself, let alone distort the very fundamental mission for which schools are set up.

A problem of this dimension ought to have been nipped in the bud. It cannot be left to the rectors of the concerned schools or to the teachers facing such a situation alone. It cannot be merely a police matter or a health sector’s concern. It doesn’t help to blame Customs or coast guards for not being vigilant enough. It requires efficient coordination at the level of social mentors such as social workers, psychologists, sociologists and all the preventive arms of the very government itself. The problem will get magnified and possibly out of control if every authority were to take care of its own slot in isolation, within the precincts of its distinct responsibility and authority.

It is a priority to master the situation. It will be too late if it is allowed to spread out and disrupt the very foundation on which future society will be built up. It is our good fortune that the matter has come out in public at this stage, even if we can only now deplore the numerous deaths it has occasioned already. We should arrest it decisively.

* Published in print edition on 22 July 2016

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