Comments Off on Alcohol and drug use surging among teens, Myanmar doctors warn; Methamphetamine replaces heroin as the greatest threat

Doctors at Yangon Mental Hospital say they are seeing a rise in the number patients in their 20s who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and this along with anecdotal and other evidence indicates that alcohol and drug addiction use is surging among those in their 20s as well as among teenagers.

The warning was made at seminar in Nay Pyi Taw last month during which public health experts and officials sought to draft new guidelines and strategies to control the distribution, advertising and consumption of alcohol.

“Now, even teenagers have started drinking [alcohol] and some will become addicts in their 20s. It’s the same with drugs,” said Dr Win Aung Myint, a mental health specialist at the hospital. “This is why we are seeing a rise in mental illness,” he added.

The seminar was told that as much as 70 per cent of the alcohol consumed by youths was illegally distilled.

Win Aung Myint also said methamphetamine had replaced heroin as the greatest threat. Instead of injected heroin, youths are now smoking methamphetamine pills, which are easier to obtain and more popular than heroin because they do not have to be injected and their effect is more appealing, he said. “Heroin makes users drowsy while methamphetamine makes them feel more energetic, so young people are choosing methamphetamine pills,” he explained.

The price of the pills differs based on their type, but the average street price in Yangon is about Ks 5,000 (US$5) per pill, researchers say. The drug can make users aggressive and has been blamed for a rise in fighting among youths, increased theft and other social ills, the researchers said. Prolonged use of the drug can cause psychosis, health experts say.

According to arrest and treatment records, about 10 per cent of methamphetamine users are women, according to Dr Hla Htay, project manager of the National Drug Abuse Control Programme.

Myanmar lacks nationwide data on alcohol consumption. However, according a 2008 rapid assessment by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health in Yangon, Taunggyi and Mawlamyine 19-24 per cent of drinkers surveyed were “problem users”, last month’s seminar was told.

The warnings come as global beer and liquor manufacturers expand their presence in what one international analyst described as “one of the last remaining virgin markets for growth”. Jeremy Cunnington, an alcoholic-drinks analyst at Euromonitor, was also quoted in local media as saying that for global manufacturers there were “very few opportunities to expand and grow” and that “Myanmar is one of those opportunities”.

Heineken’s global external communications chief, John Clarke, agreed. He said in an e-mail that per capita beer consumption in Myanmar was about three litres a year, compared with 36 in China, 30 in Vietnam, 26 in Thailand and 15 in Cambodia. “There is significant room for growth in the market,” he added.

Public health experts in Myanmar, however, say the lack of enforced regulations on advertising, distribution and sale of alcohol can leave youths vulnerable to the industrial drive now underway to increase sales of beer and alcohol in the country.



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