Hundreds of young people gathered in the northern Kyrgyz town of Kant to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Monday.
"We vote for health" and "Kyrgyzstan: future without drugs" were their main slogans.
"Narcotics are a big evil, which spares neither young nor old people. The more people know about it, particularly young people, the more lives will be saved," Alena, a schoolgirl activist, said at the event organised by the Kyrgyz Drug Control Agency, the European Union (EU) Border Management and Drug Action Programmes in Central Asia (DCA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), along with other organisations.
According to the Republican Narcology Centre in the capital Bishkek, there were 7,290 officially registered drug addicts in the country as of 1 January 2006, of whom 5.4 percent were children. But, officials at the centre conceded that the real number of drug abusers could be considerably higher - several times the official figure.
The event coincided with the launch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report 2006. Although global opium production, with 90 percent of it coming from Afghanistan, had reduced by 5 percent in 2005 compared to the previous year, the head of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, warned that Afghan opium production could increase this year.
Drug abuse of mainly Afghan heroin goes hand-in-hand with the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in the country and the region. The main mode of transmission is injecting drug use, accounting for almost 90 percent of those registered with HIV in the former Soviet republic, centre officials said.
DCA experts said that the capital, northern Chui province and the southern city of Osh were the areas where drug abuse was mainly concentrated because they were transit hubs for drug traffickers shipping Afghan heroin from Tajikistan to Russia and western Europe. "The proliferation of transit narcotics has turned those places into major drug abuse areas," they explained.
In Osh, where a dose of heroin costs less than a bottle of beer, some school teachers admitted that drug abuse among their students was their biggest concern.
"One of my former students died of an overdose recently. Another high school student was found dead in his bed. Although relatives said that he fell asleep and did not wake up, everybody knows that he died of drugs. It is really scary," Galina Valentinovna, an English teacher in Osh, said earlier.