By the numbers: Giving voice to vulnerable Lao youth

By the numbers: Giving voice to vulnerable Lao youth

It's a hot afternoon in Savannakhet, Laos. While summer is about to give way to the rainy season, it's doing its best to remind the residents of this small city that it won't go out gently. Outside the Savannakhet Primary Protection Centre, six young local researchers, all of whom are no older than 25, are joined by a few police officers as they sign out of the building. As they respectfully wai the officers, they all breathe a sigh of relief. It's been an intense week and a half, but they have accomplished a lot.

Over nine days, those six young researchers were able to interview 40 compatriots between the ages of 18 and 30 who are addicted to the mix of methamphetamines and caffeine known as ya ba. The purpose of the research was to determine the causes of the addicts' drug use, and to provide recommendations for how other youth could avoid drug abuse and addiction.

Through a combination of in-person interviews and questionnaires, the researchers uncovered a compelling list of evidence. Some 90% of the youth interviewed, for example, started using drugs during their teen years (most of them got their drugs from their friends and community). Over three-quarters of them (78%) started using drugs because they "just wanted to try them". An almost equal number (80%) have jobs, but often borrow money from family or engage in criminal activities such as theft and selling drugs because their addiction costs US$60 (1,940 baht) to $240 a month. Almost all of them believed awareness and education on the negative effects of drug use was inadequate and that parents, educators and the government needed to do a better job in this regard. This was just some of the information gathered by the young researchers.

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