PHILIP KAI MORRE
KUNDIAWA - Each year on 26 June we try to tell people of the danger of drugs in Papua New Guinea; without much success so far. The problem is getting bigger, much more complicated and workable solutions are not presenting themselves.
Many of us working in the area of drug rehabilitation and education are fed up and frustrated. We feel helpless and unable to do much - voices in the wilderness.
We work in isolation with no coordination, support or funding from either government or international donors.
Drug related problems are a serious dilemma affecting the development of PNG. Socio-economic problems are getting worse, they are exacerbated by drugs and people no longer live in peace and harmony.
Our cultural values and norms which once were our guide and discipline have been thrown to the winds. There is confusion our youth consuming more drugs – marijuana, homebrew and even harder stuff - that triggers more social problems.
The effects have become unbearable and there seem to be no known solutions. The consequences have become far greater than the problem itself.
Cannabis or marijuana has just become like another cigarette. It is sold in the open markets in both rural and urban areas.
The overall impact is an upsurge in law and order problems and increasing addiction and mental disorders, setting up a need for more specialist doctors, addiction counsellors and social workers that we simply do not have.
Nor do we have the facilities that government would usually provide – like drug clinics and detoxification units. Addicts become criminals; there is no fair treatment and rehabilitation filter.
Law enforcement bodies cannot do much to arrest the cultivators because most of the drugs are grown in remote places in the highlands provinces and are extremely difficult to identify and control.
People are ignorant. They need to know – but don’t - that drug issues are the main cause of social and other problems, including family problems, domestic violence, murder, rape, HIV AIDS and a range of other health issues.
And right at the top of the chain, we have no comprehension of the transnational crime syndicates which exchange high powered guns for the drugs we grow. This is hidden crime and it is complicated and beyond us.. The recent Southern Highlands and Hela violence may have been an eye-opener for the government in terms of weapons proliferation but we are blind to it.
Community support is needed to combat drug problems and also we need to revive our traditional laws, taboos, rituals and problem-solving methods that were once so effective.
But we have virtually lost our culture, and a person without a culture has a spiritual emptiness and this vacuum is often compensated for by taking drugs.
We need to adopt a cooperative model to reach a solution, understanding that the drug problem is not an isolated issue but a communal problem that needs a collective solution. All institutions – government, non-government, church and secular - must cooperate to achieve the desired result.
We have to assist our youth to do away with drugs, to live in peace and harmony and become better citizens.
More specific awareness of the dangers of drugs is required. Ignorance is a killer. Knowledge is a key part of the solution.
The PNG government must provide funding for awareness and training and for law enforcement bodies to tackle the problem on the ground – whetehr in cultivating, selling or using drugs.
If nothing is done, the worst is yet to come.