Mired in Quicksand

A Tzu Chi volunteer shows schoolchildren cystoscopic images of a normal bladder and the inflamed bladder of a ketamine user. During an anti-drug workshop, volunteers use pictures, props, and story-telling to make their presentation more interesting and engaging to young students.

In the last seven years, Tzu Chi’s anti-drug campaign has sponsored 7,000 workshops, many of which have been for young students. Early exposure to correct messages about illicit drugs may help young people fend off the temptation of using drugs.

The Tzu Chi anti-drug campaign is in its seventh year of operation. In conjunction with the Ministries of Justice, Education, and Health and Welfare, Tzu Chi volunteers and former drug addicts have gone to military bases, schools, communities, organizations, prisons, and drug rehabilitation centers to spread their drug awareness message. They have given more than 7,000 workshops so far.

In early September 2016, just after the school year had started, volunteers from the Tzu Chi Teachers Association chapter in Taipei began running anti-drug workshops at 45 elementary schools in Yunlin County in rural southern Taiwan. The allure and destructiveness of drugs are entirely non-discriminatory. They can inflict great harm to any person no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a big city. In fact, “The less sophisticated the students, the more critical it is to give them ‘immunity shots’ early,” said Wu Cheng-hua ('d)س>ٌ), director of academic affairs at Huanan Elementary School, one of the 45 schools. He believes that children in a rural area are simpler and more innocent and are therefore especially susceptible to drug traps viciously placed to snare them unawares. It is important to inoculate the children as early as possible against the use of drugs.

The damage of drugs can reach the most rural area. Volunteers once conducted a workshop in a countryside community in Yizhu, Chiayi County, where they talked to a group of villagers. A tearful female participant sought the volunteers out after the workshop and told them that her son had been locked up for 20 years for selling drugs and that he would soon be discharged from Chiayi Prison. She was very worried about his release.

“It’s bad enough if he just takes drugs himself,” the mother said. “What I’m more worried about is that he’ll continue to sell drugs to other people and ruin their lives. I wish that he wouldn’t be released.”

Apparently, the son had harmed the mother to the point that she no longer believed in him.

Most people have enough sense to stay away from illicit drugs, but they do not know how to prevent their loved ones or friends from using. They also do not know how to help their drug-addicted loved ones or friends to quit. Society at large seems to believe that drug users have nobody but themselves to blame for their addictions, so many people refuse to spend their time and money to help drug addicts quit.

Tzu Chi believes otherwise. Its anti-drug campaign spreads the word against drugs to help people see and understand the harm that drugs can do to users and collaterally to their family, friends, and society. After all, a drug-free society means a more peaceful society.


The Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act in Taiwan places controlled substances into four categories. Category one includes such drugs as heroin, morphine, opium, and cocaine. Category two are drugs like coca, cannabis, amphetamines, and Ecstasy. Ketamine and flunitra­zepam (often referred to as the “date rape” drug) belong to category three. Category four includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), etc. Government data has shown that the number of young people using category three drugs has skyrocketed 15-fold over the last decade.

A survey published in October 2016 by the Child Welfare League Foundation showed that 16 percent of Taiwanese teenagers and children were aware of channels through which they could obtain category three and four drugs. The same survey revealed that more than one in four respondents believed that they would be able to control their consumption if they chose to use category three or four drugs. Is such perceived self-control a good thing? Quicksand does not usually appear threatening to someone until he carelessly walks into it and becomes helplessly mired.

The survey also reported the primary reasons why respondents decided to try category three and four drugs. In order of importance, the reasons were: 1) frustration, 2) feeling no warmth in their families, 3) stress relief, and 4) curiosity. The list seems to indicate that youngsters’ demand for drugs stems not from physiological but from psychological impetuses.

Young people, especially those around 13 to 18, are generally curious, impulsive, and prone to peer pressure. They tend to conform to the prevailing norms in their circle of friends. If they lack good influences in their lives or if no responsible adults are around to provide them with trusted counsel and support, they might fall to the temptation of using drugs.

Some of those who have fallen into the drug trap were probably unaware of the dreadful medical consequences that can await drug users.

Ketamine is currently the most popular controlled substance in Taiwan. Long-term consumption can lead to permanent damage to the brain, resulting in diminished memory and capacity to learn, and also psychological problems including high levels of anxiety and depression. Even worse, it can cause sudden death from cardiovascular diseases.

Another serious consequence is severe fibrosis of the bladder wall. A fibrotic bladder can become so dysfunctional that it can hold no more than 50 ml (1.7 fluid oz) of urine. To put that in perspective, the typical human bladder capacity is between 300 and 500 ml (10 and 17 fl oz). The extremely small capacity of a fibrotic bladder brings its owner unceasing frustration. Just imagine needing to relieve yourself every ten minutes or so. In the worst cases, a fibrotic bladder may have to be surgically removed. Some ketamine users need adult diapers long before they are old.

Drug dealers have disguised drugs as candy or powdered coffee. First, that throws the police off the scent. Second, they can use the drug-laced candy to trick unsuspecting schoolchildren. Volunteers teach children through role play what to do when people they don’t know offer them candy.


Family and environment

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, the average age among youth for first-time drug use is 12.5 years. Many people find this fact incredible. Another fact might also be surprising: A survey indicates that more than half of the drug users in Taiwan receive their drugs not from dealers but from schoolmates, colleagues, or friends.

A person’s family also plays a big part in his involvement with drugs. Xu Yu-ji (٣\٪ة.V), a Tzu Chi volunteer from Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, has long worked with inmates at Taoyuan Women’s Prison and juveniles at Taoyuan Reform School. It has been her observation that families and the environment in which a child grows up significantly influence whether that child will turn out to be a drug user or not.

She pointed out that some of those she had worked with had parents who were drug addicts or dealers, and who ordered their underage children to sell drugs for them. Some parents, though not drug users, could not spend much time with their children because they were too busy working. To compensate, these busy parents gave spending money—way too much money—to their children. These children, flush with cash and without parental supervision, might have fallen into bad company, joined gangs, and ended up using drugs. Often it wasn’t until they were busted that their parents found out that their children had gone astray.

Xu also pointed out that drug dealers can rake in carloads of money very easily, making it hard for young people to resist selling drugs.

An elementary school student tries to undo a piece of aluminum foil that he has crumpled. Once crumpled, the foil can never be restored to its original shiny smoothness. Likewise, a person’s body, once compromised by drugs, can never completely go back to what it used to be.


Bring them down to earth

In a workshop, a Tzu Chi volunteer asked two students to come up to the front. She gave them each a piece of aluminum foil and asked them to crumple it up in their palm. She then asked them to undo what they had just done and return the foil back to its original smoothness.

The students, despite their best efforts, could not make the foil as smooth or shiny as before. Nobody could have done it, and nobody can ever do it.

The volunteer told the students to imagine that the foil was their body and that the act of crumpling it up was the damage illicit drugs can do to a user’s body. She pointed out to the students the importance of never trying drugs, not even once. Just as crumpling leaves irreversible marks on aluminum foil, drug use leaves the user with permanent, irreparable damage for the rest of his or her life.

A mother once told volunteers about a conversation that she had had with her young son. He said that he had been attracted when his friends had given him sensational descriptions of the unbelievable bliss and ecstasy attained by taking drugs. But after he attended a Tzu Chi anti-drug workshop, he learned about the terrors that follow drug use and realized the importance of staying away from drugs. He even shared an aphorism by Master Cheng Yen with his mom: “Doing what should be done is wisdom; doing what shouldn’t be done is foolishness.”

The mother said to the volunteers, “Thank you for saving our entire family.”

Feedback like this helps sustain and propel volunteers to continue offering the workshops. They believe that the anti-drug seed that they plant in schoolchildren may one day sprout and help them say no to drugs. Their efforts are well worth it if they can help just one child per workshop stay drug free. His family and society as a whole will benefit as a result.

Keep going

According to statistics published by the United Nations in 2015, more than 200 million people around the world consume drugs illegally and an average of at least 180,000 people each year die because of drugs. Sadly, the top three products in the world that changed hands in international trade are petroleum, arms, and illicit drugs.

Drugs are a big business. Many people are involved in manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and consumption. Drugs have harmed many people, young and old, and have destabilized families and societies. New derivatives of existing drugs or newly compounded forms of drugs have been added to the arsenal of drug dealers to entice users. Some drugs have even been viciously added to and sold as consumer products like chocolate, candy, powdered milk tea or coffee, and cigarettes, making it doubly difficult for people to fight off drugs.

The drug trade is flourishing. The war against drugs rages on.

Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to conduct drug awareness workshops, and they are compiling relevant information into printed publications for the public. They will also continue to recruit and train speakers to expand their anti-drug efforts.


What can you do when a friend invites you to try drugs?

Just say no.

Say your mother said no.

Say you’re feeling under the weather.

“So just call me a scaredy-cat.”

Change the subject.

“Sorry, I have to go somewhere.”

Winter 2016