The “Unplugged” Drug Prevention Programme

According to the Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation there is an urgent need to fund large-scale addiction prevention programmes in Pakistan

Unplugged Presentation

Mrs Cristina Von Sperling (3rd from right), President of the Foundation, at a presentation event of the Unplugged programme – Photo: Thefire.com.pk

The mission of the Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation, founded in 2015 in Islamabad (Pakistan), is to inform and raise awareness in Pakistani youth of the sometimes tragic consequences of drug dependency and drug abuse. It was founded by Cristina Von Sperling Afridi and her husband, Ambassador Tariq Khan Afridi, following the death of their son Karim

The foundation aims to provide information about the deadly consequences of drug abuse for the person, the person’s family and all of society, to break the taboos that still surround drug use, and to enable persons to obtain help. The foundation intends to play a catalysing role for youth and the communities in which they live by bringing in federal and provincial agencies to assume their political role in drug production, prevention and consumption.

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Addiction in Pakistan

According to UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], Pakistan has about 6.7 million people use illicit drugs, including four million who are drug dependent, which makes it the country most affected by the drug problem. Cannabis and heroin use is widespread and drugs cheap and easily accessible. Most of the drugs come from Afghanistan, the source of at least 75% of the heroin consumed in the world. According to UNODC, more than 800,000 Pakistanis aged 15 to 64 use heroin regularly.

In such a situation, the foundation is working to transmit to youth the knowledge and life skills that will enable them to avoid the addiction trap. Since 2017 the foundation has been implementing a modified version of a European prevention program. Basically, the Unplugged program is a prevention initiative in schools, funded by the European Commission and successfully run in many countries.

Later, the Pakistan branch of UNODC adapted the program to Pakistan’s specific cultural needs. The Pakistani version of the program is called “Hum Saath Hain“(We Are Together). Like the original version, it is a global program in a school environment for ages 13-16 years that promotes adoption of healthy and positive behaviours while also targeting the prevention of drug abuse. Teachers who participate in the program first receive specific training in the module before transmitting what they have learned to the pupils in their classes.

During the program, knowledge and skills are taught interactively, making the learning process more interesting for the pupils.

Drug prevention in schools

Unplugged is a scientifically validated tool for drug prevention in schools. Its goal is to limit the first experiences of alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and other drugs in teens and to reduce the risk of transition from experimental use to abuse or dependency. Unplugged is integrated into the school program and various program materials are available to the students.

The program uses an approach that aims to develop life skills and to provide youth with key information about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. At the same time, it teaches youth methods for problem-solving, critical thinking, enlightened decision-making and habits that will enable them to better set their own goals. The program tries not only to inform youth and help them develop their social and personal skills, but also to correct misinterpretations and preconceived ideas about drugs.

The program was first introduced in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is particularly affected by the epidemic, before it was launched in the district of Gujrat (province du Pendjab). At present the KKAW Foundation is training four school teachers who will then be in charge of introducing the program into their respective schools. Unfortunately, due to a lack of repeat funding, it has been impossible to implement the programme at a larger scale.

Such a widespread epidemic can be fought only by introducing the necessary resources to treat and reintegrate persons in the clutches of substance abuse, but also by emphasizing the prevention of addictive behaviours.

School-based prevention programmes have proved capable of reaching a large number of young people effectively and systematically. For that reason, the KKAW Foundation and Dianova are asking the Pakistani government to help introduce the Foundation’s project nationally by funding the training of school teachers.