Officials have tough job freeing schools of drugs

Published on April 22, 2013

Sikhottabong Secondary School is one of 40 schools in Vientiane to have been declared drug-free.

Sikhottabong Secondary School is one
of 40 schools in Vientiane to have been declared drug-free.

Officials are engaged in an uphill battle to free schools from drugs amid rising substance abuse in Vientiane, a senior official has said.

An official in charge of the drug-free school programme under the Vientiane Education and Sports Department, Mr Hongkeo Thammavong, on Friday expressed concern that the department might be unable to certify all 143 private and state-run primary and secondary schools as drug-free by 2015 as planned.

He said growing drug abuse by students would make it more difficult for the officials in charge to achieve their target of making all schools in the capital drug-free.

“As we are aware, drug abuse, especially among young people, has become a pressing issue,” Mr Hongkeo said.

The department, in collaboration with the relevant sectors and supported by a Sweden-based organisation, initiated the drug-free school programme in 2005. The programme involves meeting 12 criteria that schools must fulfill before they can be granted a drug-free school certificate.

So far this year, 15 schools have been awarded drug-free certificates, bringing the total to 40 schools.

The target is to award drug-free certificates to another 50 schools this academic year.

During random inspections conducted this year, urine samples taken from students in 16 schools showed they were using drugs, Mr Hongkeo said.

“We observed that more students tested positive for drugs compared to the year before,” he added.

An inspection team visits schools without informing them beforehand and conducts urine tests on selected groups of students.

The programme requires follow-up inspections of certified schools to ensure they are able to continue meeting the drug-free criteria. Those that do so for three consecutive years are awarded a trophy by the Ministry of Education and Sports.

Schools that fail to maintain their drug-free status will have their certificates revoked.

Mr Hongkeo said many schools had expressed interest in participating in the scheme.

Officials believe the programme will contribute significantly to the fight against drug abuse among students because school managers, especially in private schools, will actively participate and cooperate in the fight, in order to see their schools certified. That would encourage more students to enroll and so boost revenue.

“Parents will be more confident if their children enroll in schools that have been issued with drug-free certificates,” Mr Hongkeo said. The drug issue has become an increasingly pressing threat to all aspects of social order and security as well as posing a danger to the younger generation. The Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) reported that illicit drug trafficking in Laos is on the increase. The number of people involved in opium poppy cultivation is also increasing in Laos.

Laos faces a serious threat from the resurgence of opium poppy cultivation and a rise in the transnational trafficking of amphetamines, heroin and other drugs that contribute to increased drug abuse and social problems. Last year law enforcement officers seized drugs and arrested suspects in more than 1,000 incidents. They arrested about 2,000 people, including over 400 women and more than 50 foreigners.

Authorities seized 55kg of heroin, 1,200kg of methamphetamine tablets, 199kg of opium and 2,266kg of dried cannabis.

Source: Vientiane Times
By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
April 22, 2013