The Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention last week revealed that 13% of schoolchildren island-wide, primarily those over 14 years of age, were addicts involved in some form of substance abuse.

Director of the Task Force, Dr. Samantha Kumara Kithalawaarachchi said that certain schoolchildren were producing  thool an intoxicant composed of lime and arecanut wrapped in betel leaves and pressed using an iron and then placed under one’s tongue, which after a while dissolves and causes drowsiness.

“In addition, all the parties in Colombo attended to by youth have ‘stickers’ with hallucinogenic properties which also cause memory loss, which are placed inside one’s cheek,” he added.

In addition, the task force would be launching the National Alcohol Policy on August 4.
He noted that the said national figure of 13%, coming from recent World Health Organization, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) and Sri Lanka Medical Association statistics, was a very dangerous one for the country. The majority of the addicts are in urban areas (even in places like Kandy and Kurunegala it is in the towns and not in the villages) while 3% out of the 13% are females.

Chairman, NATA, Dr. Palitha Abeykoon  said that the survey was carried out among 70 schools islandwide among 6,800 students between the ages 14 to 17.

“However, according to the survey, the percentage of alcohol and tobacco use has come down compared to 2011,” he said.

Alcohol is not a stimulant but a depressant, he emphasized, adding that Sri Lanka was at present at the fourth place in terms of the world’s rankings concerning the consumption of alcohol.

Dr. Kithalawaarachchi elaborated that the proposed national policy will contain rules and regulations such as how much should the blood-alcohol concentration be in a driver.
“We conduct negotiations with all relevant Government officials. We conduct preventive campaigns for parents and schoolchildren along with the Ministry of Education. We conduct awareness programmes and activities for purposes of behavioural changes. In relation to tackling and curbing trafficking, we have Police officers in plain clothes who act as agents, who mix with schoolchildren including students sitting for the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level exam,” he said.

“There are various types of drugs and therefore are difficult to identify. There are very few users of cocaine here including foreigners arriving here as tourists and there is no market for it here. Cocaine is mainly for re-export. There could also be hybrid drugs where hallucinogenic drugs are mixed with properties of the opiate family which has drugs such as heroin. There are tablets called Apple tablets. Drugs include cigarettes and alcohol. Schoolchildren start off with cigarettes before gradually moving on to other drugs. Alcohol is not good for one’s health. One must be very careful about the use of such. We must explain the harm,” Dr. Kithalawaarachchi explained.