Tackling rising drug addiction in Parwan Province
CHARIKAR, 30 March 2008 (IRIN) – Sitting on his bed in a room with four others at a drug rehabilitation centre in Charikar, capital of Parwan Province, northern Afghanistan, 18-year-old Kharun tells how he got addicted to drugs:
“I started three years ago. One of my neighbours introduced me to opium; he smoked it and so did I. At that time I did not know that that was opium. I was a daily labourer and every evening I felt very tired… my back and arms were aching. The guy said it would help to relieve the pain and tiredness, that’s how I got addicted,” Kharun said.
He has been receiving treatment at the centre run by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in a bid to quit his addiction and had been off the drugs for 10 days.
Another addict in his forties, Mohammad Musa, told a similar story. “When I was living in Iran…I used to feel exhausted after a hard day’s work, so that’s how it started,” he said, adding that his first encounter with the drug was 12 years ago in Isfahan (Iran) where he fled to escape the conflict in Afghanistan.
Mohammed returned to his native town of Charikar in 2004, but could not get rid of his habit.
Mohammad Yusuf, a doctor at the rehabilitation centre, said drug addiction was increasing in Parwan Province by the day.
“There are about 600 registered drug addicts in the province, but the real figure could be up to 5,000. Over the past year, 300 patients alone have been treated at our centre,” Yusuf said.
Zahidullah Mojadedi, head of publications for ARCS in Parwan, agreed: “It [drug addiction] is a big problem here in Parwan. The number is growing every year,” he said.
Yusuf said most addicts they treated had picked up the habit in Iran or Pakistan where they were refugees.
“One of the major factors contributing to increasing drug addiction is unemployment. Also, heroin is easily available in the bazaar and it is cheap – one dose costs 25 Afghanis [about 50 US cents],” he said.
Both Yusuf and Mojadedi cited lack of awareness of the risks of using opium or heroin. “We do awareness raising and local campaigns, but it is not enough. We need more awareness raising efforts, particularly at the national level involving all mass media,” they said.
An average drug addict spends about 100 Afghanis (about US$2) per day, which works out at more than an average monthly salary in the province, ARCS officials said, noting that it had a serious economic impact on the families of addicts, draining them of resources. “Instead of buying food, clothes and other basic necessities for their families, addicts spend money on opium or heroin,” they said.
Experts say that increasing opium production is leading to increasing drug addiction. Afghanistan is the top producer of illicit opiates, including heroin, in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2007 Afghanistan produced 8,200 tonnes of opium (34 percent more than in 2006), becoming by far the biggest supplier of the world’s deadliest drug (93 percent of the global opiates’ market), according to UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 [http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/AFG07_ExSum_web.pdf].
UNODC said in its annual report [http://www.unodc.org/documents/about-unodc/AR08_WEB.pdf] in March 2008 that drug abuse had risen rapidly in Afghanistan among both adults and children.
According to the Afghanistan Drug Use Survey [http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/publications/afghanistan_drug_use_survey_2005.pdf] conducted by UNODC in 2005, the estimated number of drug users was about 920,000, including about 60,000 children