Representational image (Photo: Markus Spiske from Pexels)

The small sized island country of Palau has been dealing with a drug problem for a while now. This drug problem has now taken an uglier turn as it reaches the elementary and high schools of Palau.

From three government sources, it is confirmed that minors are exposed to heavy drugs. The Narcotics Enforcement Agency director Ismael Aguon confirms that minors end up getting sexually exploited in exchange of these heavy drugs, particularly methamphetamine.

The social worker at a public office reveals that    young girls are made “runners” whose job is to get more girls in the drug circle and are sexually exploited as well.

To understand the reasons as to why are young Palauan are choosing the life of drugs over their physical well-being, Island Times reached out to Clinical Psychiatrist Sylvia Wally at the Behavioral Health.

Meth affects the dopamine receptors of the brain and generates euphoria.

Wally said that this euphoric feeling comes at the cost of natural dopamine receptor being diminished with every use of meth.

When the dopamine is reduced to zero in the system, the body goes into withdrawal.

“You sleep a lot. You get depressed and the tendency for you to feel suicidal is very high because of the chemical imbalance.” Wally said.

If the consumption of meth goes up to 6-12 months, the damage is permanent and irreversible. The drug user starts to hallucinate as all the receptors that produce natural feeling are damaged in that period.

Eventually, the body develops tolerance which results into increase of dosage by the user. This reaches to a point where the body no longer produces natural dopamine as it is now entirely dependent on meth.

“This will cost you to have neurochemical imbalance which we call psychosis. You start to hear voices, you get paranoia and you start think that people conspiring against you. Wally said.

“This evidently can cause you to kill someday.” She adds.

People who have history of mental illness in the family can face episodes of psychosis earlier than six months. According to Wally, it causes psychosis in the first or second usage itself.

Wally further states that there are three risk factors that might push children towards hard drugs like meth; The adult peer pressure, poverty level, lack of family bonding.

The adult peer pressure starts with children being befriended by adults.

According to Wally this is being done by bribing children with expensive electronics, car rides, snacks and airtimes.

A friendly gesture eventually turns into children being introduced to meth.

“They become part of this drug transaction where they use the young teenagers to either sell[drugs] or introduce to their other teenager friends or classmates and in return giving them money.”  Wally said.

On minors exchanging sexual favors for drugs, Wally said “Chemical imbalance could cause a person to judge wrongly about what they are doing or they are so doped with meth that they cannot rationalize what they doing.”

Wally said that a drug like meth can boost up the sex drive of teenagers which can lead to a poor judgment and decision making.

She further adds that a preventive measure is to educate the children at an early age about the consequences of drugs and to warn them about adults luring them into the life of drugs.

According to Wally, the use of drugs by a family member can influence the child to be a drug consumer as well.

While the youngest user for Meth is 12 years old, Wally reveals that Marijuana consumptions starts at an earlier age.

“First drug that is a gateway to Meth is Marijuana.” She said.

Wally claims that Peliliu state is known to grow Marijuana in Palau. She further claims that every state has plantations of Marijuana and a handful of people in a hamlet secretly grow personal marijuana plants.

“A lot of high crimes we see in Palau is a result of usage of Marijuana at a very young age.” She adds.

Wally said, “Families need to get to know their children better. Get connected to them emotionally. Not just feed them and make sure they go to school.”

“A lot of kids who get hooked to risk behaviours that includes drug use behaviours is because they are emotionally devpreived. They lack the support and advice. They lack the bonding.” She adds.

The neurochemical damage is so profound with meth that the recovery process takes almost a lifetime. Drug users who start using meth at an early, face damage at an early age and hence it takes longer for them to recover.

There is support available for drug addicts of all ages at the Belau National Hospital, Behavioural Health. (By Eshan Kalyanikar)