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Uzbekistan sways youth away from drug abuse
A multipronged campaign aims to keep adolescents straight by offering popular role models, clear guidance and better alternatives.
By Maksim Yeniseyev
TASHKENT – Uzbekistan is entering a new phase in its “Programme of Comprehensive Measures to Combat Drug Abuse and Trafficking in 2011-2015,” and authorities say the programme has resonated with youth.
With the participation of celebrities like singers, athletes and actors, the National Information and Analytical Centre on Drug Control (NCDC) is focusing on using media, sports and activity to combat the spread of drugs among youth, NCDC representative Seydulla Khusnitdinnov told Central Asia Online.
“With the help of the media, feature films, books and outdoor advertising, we are creating the image of the drug user as a person whom society holds in contempt,” he said. “On the streets of Tashkent and other cities, you can see billboards … on which celebrities encourage young people to lead a healthy lifestyle.”
The programme includes a variety of educational events such as charitable concerts; TV and radio broadcasts; and meetings in community associations, schools and universities, he said.
The approach seems to be resonating with young people.
“Police drug-prevention officers visited us and described the kinds of crimes committed by drug addicts through real-life examples and what to do if we are offered drugs,” Uzbek State University of World Languages student Yekaterina Appazova told Central Asia Online. “They talked to us about marijuana and hashish, and about how it is a myth that they are harmless.”
“I think that these meetings are very useful,” she said. “I personally have never used drugs, but male students often talk about how they dabble in soft drugs.” But the strategy doesn't stop there.
Law enforcement officials and Islamic leaders also are involved, with police warning youth that the sale and possession of drugs inevitably will lead to punishment, and the imams conveying messages during prayer gatherings that Islam prohibits drug use.
Number of registered drug addicts falling
The programme is working, according to the NCDC. In 2010 Uzbekistan had 18,939 registered drug addicts. In June 2011, this figure had fallen by to 18,197. In 2012, it had fallen further to fewer than 17,000.
Troyana Tsai, who works for the NGO “Soglom avlod uchun” (Healthy Generation), said government support is the key solving the drug problem, and a public approach must be multifaceted, including treatment for addiction and attempts to keep people from ever trying drugs.
If a young man has gone down the wrong track and has started using drugs, the state must stand ready to provide him all the assistance he requires to get rid of this addiction, Tsai said.
“He can voluntarily obtain treatment at one of 17 drug treatment clinics or one of 10 private clinics. At any one time the country's medical facilities can hold nearly 2,000 people for compulsory treatment, to which addicts are sent only after a court rules that they are a danger to society,” Tsai said of current programmes.
Sports, peer counselling offered as preventive measures
But giving youths alternatives and support is the best way to prevent future generations from falling into addiction, many contend.
Uzbekistan has found great success with sports competitions for youngsters in recent years. This year, volleyball, tennis, soccer, karate, judo, track and field and other “Youth against drug abuse” sports competitions took place across the country, project organisers said.
Along a similar vein, the 10th “Extreme Sport against Drugs” festival was held in Tashkent in late October. “Our main goal was to set an example for teenagers,” one of the organisers, Sabina Ablyaskina, told Central Asia Online. “As the saying goes, it is better to see once than hear a hundred times.”
The festivals include BMX cycling, skateboarding, skating and parkour demonstrations.
“Young people get to see first-hand how much more fun our scene is,” she said, adding that youth are drawn to their groups of extreme athletes and of forward-thinking and energetic young Uzbeks as opposed to the drug scene.
Since sports aren’t a good alternative for everyone, the country has also implemented counselling programmes. These peer-to-peer methods of guiding youth and preventing drug abuse are particularly effective as well, many in the field say.
In September, the youth movement Kamolot held a drug prevention seminar at a camp located in the mountains of Tashkent Oblast, Kamolot organisational committee member Rustam Salikhov told Central Asia Online. The most active members of the movement attended it.
“We hope that in the future these potential leaders will use their authority to promote a healthy lifestyle among their peers,” he said. “This tactic is effective because a teenager’s friends – leading by example – is much more convincing than a hundred words spoken by adults.”