Chennai needs to wake up from its complacence. A neighbourhood paper recently published an article about how school children in its area were systematically being targeted by drug peddlers. The veracity of the article notwithstanding, for it seemed to have plenty of political colour to it, led to comments in social media from people in other parts of the city. They too had a similar story to tell about their neighbourhoods. It was just a small indicator of how far the menace had spread. 

The modus operandi is quite simple – vendors who are purveying seemingly harmless items proliferate around schools and children flock to them immediately after school hours. A few of these vendors tempt the children with drugs and over a period of time build a steady clientele, that becomes increasingly addicted. It appears that the target age groups comprise children in the middle and high schools. The friends’ network in the classrooms brings in more buyers and very often peer pressure to try out drugs ‘just for the experience’ proves irresistible. Discovery, as and when it happens, is often very late, by when much damage has already been done. 

Preventing this is not easy. Firstly, in today’s world of nuclear families, parents are either too busy or distracted to notice sudden deviant behaviour among their children. More often than not, parents are simply not there when children come home from school, this being the age when both parents are career people. Secondly, the schoolteachers, a harassed lot on many fronts today, simply don’t have the wherewithal to notice what goes on outside the campus. Yes, there have been instances when schools have registered formal complaints with the local police stations over drug peddling in their neighbourhoods, but action is impossible to take. There is often no evidence and itinerant vendors are not easy to apprehend. Some schools do conduct campaigns against drugs, but these are few and far between and very often dismissed as mere rituals. Lastly, the availability of ready money is perhaps the greatest menace – children today have far greater access to cash than any previous generation. Rising economic status also contributes to this. When the usage of this money goes unchecked by parents, we have greater instances of such abuse. 

That Chennai has a serious drug menace is now becoming increasingly apparent. It was in 2019 that a ‘countrywide drug racket kingpin’ was arrested in Mylapore. The man controlled a synthetic drugs network across India from here. In 2021, there were newspaper reports on how the age of cannabis was over and children in the city were increasingly taking to opoids – synthetics such as adhesives and thinners. Of course, this was in keeping with the national trend, but that is no cause for taking comfort. In 2021 a survey indicated that as much as 9 per cent of school-goers in middle and high school levels may be addicted. 

It is necessary for parents to realise that the fight against drugs must begin from home. Ultimately, it is the home that suffers the most when addiction becomes a real issue. Parents need to keep a close watch on children – not an easy task given the demands on time and the number of communication channels with the outside world that now exist. More important is for parents to instil in their children early on an awareness about the evils of drugs. It is also necessary for communities around schools to come together to fight the menace. Complaining to the police is one thing but being ready to become part of the vigilance group is yet another altogether. Will Chennai’s parents rise to the challenge?