Drug addiction - a growing burden

Afghanistan’s production of opiates and hashish is increasingly hurting its own people as well as damaging the health of millions across the world, officials and experts warn.



Over the past five years the number of drug users has increased from 920,000 to over 1.5 million, the spokesman of the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN), Zalmai Afzali, told IRIN.



No other country in the world produces as much heroin, opium and hashish as Afghanistan, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).



The steady rise in the number of domestic drug users belies the argument by some Afghans that drug consumption is a non-Afghan problem and that the drugs trade brings money to the country.



“There is the Coca-Cola effect between production of drugs and consumption and addiction; supply inevitably does create demand,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC’s country representative.



“The distinction between producing and consuming countries has blurred. Traditionally, consuming countries have become producers of synthetic drugs. In turn, producing countries have become consumers. What remains is a shared international responsibility. No country should be left alone,” he said.



“There is a risk Afghanistan could become the world’s top drug-using nation - albeit proportionate to its population - if the current addiction trend continues and we fail to stop it,” said MCN’s Afzali.














Photo: Shoresh Kalantari/UNAMA
Afghanistan produces more opium, heroin and hashish than any other country in the world

Addiction, not production, is Afghanistan’s biggest problem, experts say.



“Silent tsunami”



“If each addict spends US$1 a day on his/her addiction it is waste of $45 million a month,” Tariq Suliman, director of a drug users’ rehabilitation centre called Nejat, told IRIN.



He said addicts seeking treatment at his centre come from all walks of life but most are young men who could otherwise be of use to their family and country.



Officials at the MCN said drug addiction was having a devastating impact: “Drug addiction adds to insecurity, social crimes and communicable diseases and undermines Afghanistan’s development efforts,” said Afzali, adding that providing free treatment and rehabilitation services for the addicts was an unnecessary financial burden.



Transmission of communicable viruses - particularly HIV - among injecting drug users is a serious health risk. Awareness about sexual diseases is very low.



At least 3 percent of injecting drug users in Kabul were diagnosed HIV positive, according to a 2006 World Bank study in Kabul.



“Drug addiction and HIV/AIDS are, together, Afghanistan’s silent tsunami,” said Suliman of the Nejat Centre.



There are about 40 treatment centres for addicts, but most are very small and under-resourced.



Donor response



Over the past few years donors have disbursed hundreds of millions of dollars to counter Afghanistan’s drug problem.



However, officials concede that counter-narcotics efforts have been concentrated on poppy eradication and interdiction but little attention has been paid to the rising addiction crisis.



“Donors logically adopted counter-narcotics policies based on their own national interests,” said UNODC’s Lemahieu, adding that Afghanistan’s addiction and HIV problems were increasingly being acknowledged by donors and the government.



MCN’s Afzali praised US support for counter-narcotics efforts but said other donors, particularly European ones, have not properly understood the country’s drug problems.



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