To confront Egypt’s addiction crisis head on, the Ministry of Social Solidarity launched the campaign “You Are Stronger than Drugs.” The initiative, introduced by Minister Ghada Wali, is worth noting and may prove to be immensely effective in the long run. I watched Dr. Wali speak on the issue with Lamees El Hadidi on Hona El Asema, and here are the accomplishments thus far.
First, let us peruse the bleak statistics. Though addiction in Egypt is on par with world rates at 2.4 percent, using drugs is double the world rate at 10 percent, and while smokers can hardly find a place to smoke in developed countries, 25 percent of Egyptians still smoke just about anywhere.
The cost is massive on individuals and on Egypt in general. Smokers spend approximately 199 Egyptian pounds on cigarettes, and addicts spend 283 pounds on drugs per month. It is alarming to recognize that, collectively, more is spent on addiction than on education.
Dr. Wali realized that the concept of graphic photos on cigarette packets wasn’t effective enough, so she came up with an innovative campaign that would strike a chord with smokers and addicts alike.
Research began. The results proved that addiction has nothing to do with whether the addict has a job or not, that today 27 percent of affluent young women use drugs for sheer amusement, and that those in certain vocations, such as drivers and trades people, are more inclined to use drugs than others. Research also proved that some use drugs because it makes them more sociable; others use drugs to remain vigilant and awake. In all cases, once you start, you are hooked.
With this in mind, the campaign, “You Are Stronger than Drugs,” was launched targeting groups more susceptible to the habit: not only the young, the affluent, and certain vocations, but also their support systems, friends and colleagues.
To utilize the best spokepersons for the campaign, those who would leave the desired impact on would-be addicts, researchers invited youths between the ages of 12 and 17 to name their favourite figures. The youths chose the young actor Mohamed Ramadan and the international football player Mohamed Salah as their icons.
Both Ramadan and Salah partook in poignant ads that inspire and uplift while sending the strong message: “You Are Stronger than Drugs.”After completing the ad, Ramadan attended an event that celebrated those who recovered from their addictions, galvanizing them even further. In Mohamed Salah’s ad, the legend that many young Egyptians look up to speaks of pressure and defeat, and how, if he remains strong, can he overcome the inclination to use drugs.
Singers, too, are supportive of the campaign. Hisham Abbas and Ahmed Gamal have released songs that encourage Egyptians to curb drug intake.
The national campaign to stop drug abuse is indeed working. Mohamed Ramadan’s ad was watched on social media over 8 million times. The campaign’s website has had 340,000 hits, and the hot line that addicts can use to reach out for support hit 85,000 calls.
Since drivers seem susceptible to drug usage—24 percent of all drivers use drugs, and of these 50 percent use Tramadol-- the ministry has tested all school bus drivers for drug intake and encourages schools to remain alert and realize the chronic challenges some bus drivers may have with drugs.
Wali believes the role of fiction, movies and television series is huge in affecting change, whether positive or negative. During the peak Ramadan season of 2015, 24 series included 57.5 hours of smoking and drug use. Bearing in mind that these series are repeated on different channels and aired many a time, these numbers become a mere fraction of the actual time shown.
Television series in Egypt portray addicts smoking amongst children and at home. This is untrue in the real world so, to combat the inclination to depict addiction and smoking in television series as normal - which in essence realizes normalcy - the campaign will celebrate the positive shows and blacklist the negative ones after this Ramadan season. A million pounds will be awarded to the series that best avoided addiction scenes.
Once an addict is on the path of recovery, support is available. He can get a loan for a start-up business; he can also get hands-on training fixing mobile phones or maintaining home appliances or air conditioners. The hot line for those in need of support is 16023.
Drug addiction is the main cause of robbery, incest, sexual harassment and abuse. Encouraging abstinence, curbing the spread of usage, and supporting recovery is a national duty. All are issues the “You Are Stronger than Drugs” campaign aims to accomplish.