PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) authorities have decided to enact a drug control policy to curb the use, sale and purchase of methamphetamine, also known as "crystal meth" or "ice".
"The government is gravely concerned over the use of this new form of drug, especially by youngsters, and wanted to ... protect the public," KP Minister for Information and Public Health Shah Farman told journalists July 11.
"Unfortunately, the young generation is consuming ice as a fashion without knowing its harm to the brain and health," he said.
To curb the spread of this highly addictive and harmful drug, the government is seeking to pass a bill that would close loopholes in the existing Control of Narcotics Substance Act, he said.
Because ice is a chemical drug, it is not covered by current law and police may not legally call it an intoxicant in court.
"The KP government will soon present a bill in the Provincial Assembly to ban the use, sale and purchase of ice permanently in the province," Farman said.
'Ice' spreading rapidly
Methamphetamine, meth or ice is a synthetic drug found in white crystal form, said Dr. Khalid Mufti, a psychiatrist in Peshawar.
"Meth is a highly addictive drug and is several times more dangerous than other drugs including heroin," he told Pakistan Forward.
Addicts generally "smoke, inhale and inject meth", he said. "The drug makes the user hyperactive for several hours."
"The curse of ice is spreading very rapidly, and apart from young boys, even girls are falling victim to it," said Maj. Muhammad Arif, spokesman for the KP Anti Narcotics Force (ANF).
"The decision [to introduce the bill] is commendable," he said. "Because of a lack of proper legislation, law enforcement is facing difficulty in arresting the [sellers and users] and in filing cases against them," he told Pakistan Forward.
He stressed the need for research on why youth, especially educated youth, find the drug so attractive.
"I cannot understand why people are attracted to [ice], which has serious effects on the brain and health of users," he said.
Hope for parents of 'ice' addicts
The KP government's decision is welcome news for Muhammad Zahoor, a teacher in Peshawar whose two teenaged sons became addicted to ice.
"It is a good news for me because I was running from pillar to post requesting concerned officials to carry out raids in our locality, where a large number of youngsters have become victims of this addiction," he told Pakistan Forward.
Zahoor said he and his wife have been very active in trying to raise awareness about the problem and reporting the drug dealers to the authorities so innocent youth, like their sons, cannot purchase ice.
"Addiction has made my sons physically weak, mentally disturbed and highly aggressive," Zahoor said.
"Because we're parents, it is very difficult to see our two sons addicted to a lethal drug," he said. "But the decision of the KP government has raised some hopes for us."
Help for drug addicts
"When I first used ice, I felt severe heat inside my body, forcing me to drink several glasses of chilled water," Abdul Jalal, an ice addict and resident of Rasheed Abad, Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
Abdul Jalal said he could not sleep for a couple days and that a constant sense of irritation sent him to the doctor, who prescribed tranquilisers.
But he is still addicted.
Ice is easily available in Rasheed Abad and nearby Sangu Garhi, he said. The price of 1g varies from Rs. 1,200 ($11) to Rs. 3,000 ($28).
"[The price] depends on the quality ... and most users go for the cheapest form, which is lower quality and more harmful," he said.
About 11% of the KP population are addicted to drugs, according to a 2013 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said ANF Assistant Director Muhammad Amir, adding that this figure includes cigarettes and hashish among other drugs.
Although the government lacks data specifically on meth users, consumption of ice is growing fast, he told Pakistan Forward.
Raising awareness, providing rehabilitation
The KP government's move to tighten legislation on drugs is "very commendable", said Tariq Hayat, manager of the Drug Demand and Drug Harm Reduction Project of Dost Welfare Foundation, a Peshawar non-profit working with street children, drug addicts, destitute women, prisoners and youth.
"The legal loophole was a big impediment to proper action by law enforcement agencies and protected the culprits," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The number of ice addicts is increasing with alarming speed in Pakistan in general and KP in particular," he said, adding that the Dost Welfare Foundation helps rehabilitate addicts and on some days receives more than 40 patients.
Students may be inclined to try ice during exam preparations as the drug keeps them awake for a few days, he said.
The ANF is arranging seminars and lectures at universities and colleges to educate students about the effects of ice on their lives.
"The KP government is making serious efforts to eradicate the menace of drugs, and for this purpose it donated Rs. 150 million ($1.4 million) to the Dost Welfare Foundation," said Muhammad Naeem Khan, director of the KP Social Welfare Department.
So far, five drug rehabilitation centres have been set up in Peshawar alone, he said.