Turkey’s drug problem looms large

Turkey’s drug problem looms large

I first noticed just how widespread the use of drugs in schools has become in Turkey when I did a news story on the subject two years ago.

That’s when members of the “Let’s Meet in a Sober Life” (AYBUDER) association, who all struggle with drug-addicted relatives, started a non-stop protest period to make their voice heard.

What they told me was terrifying. I heard that one could buy a hit of heroin for 5 Turkish Liras (roughly $1.4) in the southern tourist haven Antalya, while the northwestern industrial city of Bursa has now become a methamphetamine hub. Drugs have even made their way to small villages in the northeastern province of Erzurum, they said.

Children as young as 8 or 9 have become embroiled in this nightmare. Kids as young as 8 are using needles, while drug dealers are able to walk without any hassle at school entrances and at rehabilitation centers, AYBUDER told me.

It’s heartbreaking. And we don’t know about the true scale of the problem because official data only covers those who apply to rehab centers and admit that they are addicts. 

Two years ago, members of AYBUDER had three specific requests from the government: 

1) The establishment of a parliamentary anti-drug commission to oversee policies and monitor the issue. They asked the state to take a share in the cost rather than arbitrarily earmarking funds.

2) A public mobilization to take hold, with treatment and rehabilitation centers in every provinces. 

3) Informative feature stories and debate shows on TV to take different angles on the issue, seeking sustainable solutions.

Not one of these requests drew a positive response, even though the issue continues to hurt people and their loved ones.

What are schools doing about this?

Just the other day, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Atilla Sertel made an inquiry to the Interior Ministry. He asked the following questions:

- What measures have the Interior Ministry taken for the 2017-18 school year to prevent drug sales at schools?

- There are claims that drug dealers outside schools are released shortly after they are detained. Is this true? If so, what judicial arrangements are made for them to receive heavier penalties?

- What are the statistics on drug use in schools for the past three years? How many drug dealers have been caught? How many have been released? How many have been penalized?

- At what age do students start using drugs in Turkey? What age groups use them more often and what measures have been taken against picking up drug habits at a young age?

- What are the statistics on drug use in Turkey, including the deadly synthetic cannabinoid known as “bonzai”? How much has this risen over the past half-decade?

- How many and what type of drugs have been busted in Turkey over the past five years? What is the total value of these drugs? How are drugs smuggled into Turkey and where do they come from?

I recently met a father whose son has been using drugs for 11 years. He told me that narcotics use was among the “elephants in the room” in Turkey.

“You feel ashamed and hide the problem. You worry about public shaming. But to think your child cannot get involved in such behavior is naïve,” he said. 

“The problem is very common in this country and it may well make its way into your own child’s habits. Among many other things, this puts everyone’s daily security at risk,” he added.