A young Tunisian man was arrested this morning on suspicion of giving drugs to primary school students.
The arrest came after a 10-year old student in Tunisia’s southern province of Zarzis was hospitalized after consuming a candy bar that apparently had been laced with an illegal substance. The student, who is now in stable condition, identified the alleged drug dealer to law enforcement officers.
According to Zarzis security services, the man in custody had previously approached other young students with offers of candy, but no illegal substances were found on him at the time of his arrest.
While it is unclear what substance the suspect was trafficking, his arrest reflects the high availability of drugs in Tunisian society.
Despite harsh penalties for illegal drug use (Tunisians can face between between 1-5 years in prison for consuming illegal substances such as marijuana, ecstasy, or cocaine), surveys suggest that such use is common among Tunisian adolescents and youth.
A 2013 survey by the Ministry of Health found that nearly all adolescents between the ages of 15-17 reported having easy access to drugs, with 25% identifying drugs as “very easily accessible.” 11.6% of adolescents surveyed in the same study said they had used some type of psychoactive drug at least once, including alcohol and tobacco.
In recent years, Tunisia has seen an increase in the prevalence of recreational drugs such as cannabis, as well a the increased use of artificial narcotics, such as Subutex (often injected used as a cheaper alternative to heroin.)
There has also been a rise in the popular nightclub pill ecstasy, a powerful synthetic known to produce heightened levels of euphoria and empathy.
Only last week, four Tunisians were arrested transporting over 5,000 tablets of ecstasy into the capital.
One of the men, who is thought to be part of an extensive drug-trafficking network between Europe and Tunisia, was caught concealing the pills inside packages of dried fruit and chocolate, during a return flight from Belgium.