Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Surachai Chupaka

Thailand: Drug Problems At The Top

A trio of students takes on a research project and finds that substance abuse isn't limited to poorer schools.

There's a public perception that students who attend the top ten high schools in Bangkok are free from drug abuse because of their clean image and academic record.

But in reality this is not the case at all. In fact, these prestigious schools are a hive of drug activity, according to a group of young researchers from Chulalongkorn University who conducted interviews with witnesses, in the belief their research will be of benefit to society.

During the last semester, Preeyanut Sutprasert, an Education faculty student, and a colleague were impressed by Ajarn Amornwich Nakornthab, a lecturer on the "Education and Society" course, who came to explain how students could turn fact-finding projects into a positive contribution. Instead of being a passive listener at lectures they learned that they can play an active role in helping society.

That seminar encouraged Preeyanut and her friend Suttinee Chuanchaisit, and Salisa Obpat to attend Amornwich's class, from which they would choose a tropic to research. It was not as easy as they first thought.

"At first, we planned to research how and why well off students loved luxury goods so much, even though these products were too expensive for them. But we had to think twice, because the results might have been misunderstood by other students, who would try to follow their example. So we changed the topic to focus on the drug problem," explained Preeyanut.

However, this idea also presented a problem, as there were a number of researchers working on this issue already. So the team tried to find a fresh angle into drug abuse that other projects hadn't tackled before.

They finally came up with the idea to challenge the accepted notion that drug abuse among students only occurred in poorer schools around slums and temples. But as their observations around the shops in Siam Square showed, many students from prestigious schools were drug users.

As a result, they started their investigation under the assumption that drugs were widely available in the top-ten schools in Bangkok. They began looking through newspapers and magazines but there was no information about this issue. Meanwhile, Suttinee Chuanchaisit tried to find out if there were any records of drug using students from the Education Ministry and the Office of Narcotics Control Board, but any relevant information from both sources seemed to be outdated and underestimated.

Then they changed tack, and decided to ask people who had any experience of drug use in five of the top schools. They asked friends and friends of friends who had used or knew about the spread of drugs in those schools. In the end, the team found three alumni and one student from four famous schools who had either personal experience or knew others who were drug users.

"It wasn't easy getting the truth from them. We had to apply some psychology and friendly persuasion, and then cross-check their information," said Suttinee. "In the end, they all admitted seeing their seniors smoking amphetamines in school, and that many students from different grades continue to use drugs both inside and outside these top five schools."

The researchers discovered that the school toilets were the main place for smoking drugs, and that one or two senior students acted as dealers who bought drugs from the Klong Toey slum community to sell to the other students. Outside school, students and student dealers used several entertainment places and shops in Siam Square to buy drugs.

Salisa Obpat found that the main reason for taking drugs stemmed from the stress of long study hours to achieve academic success, coupled with the expectations of their teachers and parents. Drugs gave respite from pressure. In addition, broken families and loneliness also triggered a desire to indulge in drugs, as the way out of their problems.

"They said they always felt free from obligations when they take amphetamines. And because these students have money, they can always afford to buy it," said Salisa.

The team decided to inform the school administrators of their findings. However, Preeyanut admitted that it might be difficult for these famous schools to accept the reality, because it will directly damage the school's reputation. Nonetheless, she insisted that by giving them concrete evidence it would help them to clean up the problem.

"If the schools really want to solve this problem, it will not be difficult. A well-known boy's school started using random urine tests and any students found to have drug traces were expelled. As a result, drug usage dropped dramatically."

Other schools, she added, seemed to be reluctant to follow suit. They may fear the influence of the parents who have a high social status. In any event, punishment is not sufficient to deal with these problems. Parents and school administrators should work together to combat the problem. Love and a caring attitude from both sides are key points to prevent the younger generation from drug-abuse.

"If we could stop drug use in these prestigious schools then it might prevent kids from resorting to drugs in other schools as well. If not, then Thai society will surely lose a whole generation," said Preeyanut.

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Created: August 26, 2001
Last modified: August 26, 2001
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