An alarming trend of increased drug abuse among the youth of Himachal Pradesh in recent years has woken up the authorities but a concrete plan and required interventions are missing to tackle the menace.

These findings have been revealed in ‘Situational Analysis Himachal Pradesh – Youth and Drugs 2017-18′ which has been prepared by Regional Resource and Training Centre (RRTC) along with the Dharamshala-based NGO, Gunjan.

The report reveals that around 41.5 per cent youth have smoking dependence while 7.91 per cent youth are suffering from alcohol and substance dependence. However, only 1 per cent of them are found to be injecting and sniffing drugs.

The survey report has focused on youth in the 10-24 age group who constitute 35 per cent (23,33,965) of the total population of Himachal Pradesh. The report suggests that government efforts should focus on promoting behavioural change to avoid specific risk factors among the youth along with enabling them to access services whenever and wherever required. Further, creating an environment that makes young people be healthy over time should also be there.

Sandeep Parmar, executive director of Gunjan, said the stigma attached to youth after they are caught taking drugs and the general trend of suspending them from schools further aggravates the problem. “There needs to be proper sensitisation of teachers and even parents on drug abuse as this might help in preventing other students falling prey to the menace,” he said.

Awareness programmes need to be developed to address the perception of stigma among the youth and their families over substance use and to remove barriers towards seeking care for these problems, he said. These programmes should also address the inability of the youth to perceive addictive behaviours as a health risk, he said.

Parmar said parents and support persons’ involvement and engagement in youth programmes should be strengthened further as it improves communication and better decision-making for youth health issues.

Family-based prevention programmes emphasising parenting skills, training or improving family functioning, communication and family rules regarding substance abuse needs to be introduced.

“Teachers are a major source of information to young people. Hence, strengthening the role and performance of educational institutions, ensuring availability of counselling services, gender sensitivity issues, making life skills courses a part of curriculum are required for health and welfare of young people.

“Most importantly, in all youth related programmes, young people should be involved and engaged to empower them to take informed decisions,” he said.

The report calls for use of both print and visual media along with social networks to inform young people about positive health and to increase its impact. Government, non-government, community-based and faith-based organisations need to advocate the influence and the crucial role played by the media in shaping their opinions, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour, thus ensuring adequate media responsibility, it said.

Health promotion programmes need to focus on behavioural change component (BCC) such as stress reduction, healthy diet, promoting physical activity, avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drugs, the report added.

The survey report revealed that overall 6.94 per cent youth in Himachal Pradesh were found depressed at the time of the survey and 15.54 per cent of the youth feel excessively anxious. Among them a higher proportion of girls reported feeling excessively anxious (19.19 per cent) compared to boys (12.1 per cent).

It calls for primary interventions as informed and healthy decisions in relationships and positive use of media and social networks. Moving beyond health issues per se, they should include programmes that aim at broader and holistic growth and development of young people.

“Generally whenever an adolescent discusses alcohol, tobacco products and substances, they are shunned and told not to engage in such activities or face consequences (reprimand or punishment),” Parmar said.

He said youngsters who have already acquired health impacting behaviours should be encouraged to seek care by informing them of long-term consequences through a variety of media channels, including social network channels.

“Simultaneously, the access to the services needs to strengthen and scaling-up (establish new services) in order to provide counseling and treatment to the people infected and affected by alcoholism or substance abuse. There should be added services to capacities and link the person in recovery with vocational skills and economic sustainable activities,” he said.

At present, only three districts of Himachal have drug de-addiction centres, which provide counseling and other services to people to shun drug abuse while the remaining 9 districts still remain under-covered.

In addition, the standards for operating at these centres are found wanting in providing quality services and trained staff at these facilities is another issue of concern.