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Pakistan's Heroin Problem Tied To New Afghan Opium Trade

by Nadeem Iqbal

Opium Trade Thrives In "New" Afghanistan
(IPS) ISLAMABAD -- Muhammad Shahid, 35, is lucky to be among just a fifth of drug abusers who are able to get into one of Pakistan's 73 treatment centers, which offer a week-long detoxification program.

Detoxification is just the start of his possible recovery and not rehabilitation, but even this was not easy for Shahid to come up with the courage and the money for.

According to the latest Drug Abuse in Pakistan survey, Pakistan -- which lies next to Afghanistan -- has one of the highest drug abuse ratios, compared to countries like Iran, India, and Thailand.

Among the 65 million people in the 15-45 year old age group, there are some 500,000 regular heroin users and drug injectors.

But while the government is hard put dealing with drug abuse by many low-income people and getting them rehabilitated, it expects the supply of illegal drugs to grow from the bumper harvest of poppy in Afghanistan, which since 1999 has accounted for 75 percent of the world's opium.

Maj. Gen. Zafar Abbas, director general of the Anti-Narcotics Force, said, "Pakistan is not a poppy-cultivating country but rather a victim country. Its production of poppy of 800 tons in early 1990s was zero and in 2000, the United Nations declared it a poppy-free country."

"But the population of drug addicts is growing," he said. "Now," he added, "Pakistan has to import heroin to the extent of 80 to 106 metric tonnes to meet the requirements of its own drug addicts."

Much of this comes from the across the border in Afghanistan. In 2000, under the Taliban, the country had cut down on the areas planted to poppy, but reports say production is up once again with the overthrow of the Taliban and the installation of the new U.S.-backed regime.

The area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan decreased to 7,606 hectares in 2001 from 90,583 in 1999, but has now increased to around 79,000 hectares, UN officials say.

Released in late December, the Drug Abuse in Pakistan study, a 'rapid assessment survey', was carried out by United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) and the Anti-Narcotics Force.

It focuses on the specific trends of drug use, such as the chronic and regular use of heroin or drugs by injection.

"Injecting drug use has markedly increased in the past ten years from less than 2 percent in 1993 to approximately 15 percent in 2000. An alarming trend of injecting drugs including synthetic opiates and tranquilizers has been observed with an overall one third of drug users having ever injected drugs," the study reported.

"Injecting drugs use has been accompanied by a high incidence of risk behavior associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne infections," the study added.

Its statistics show that 47 percent of addicts are laborers, followed by businesspersons 16 percent, students 3 percent and agriculture workers 5 percent. Twenty-two percent support their habit through casual work, 18 percent by their families, 16 percent by begging, 13 percent by drug peddling and 11 percent by petty theft and pickpocketing.

These figures show that the most drug addicts are in the lower income bracket, which means they cannot afford to seek rehabilitation.

Dr. Nadeem-Ur-Rehman, who has his own detoxification center, puts the cost of per-capita detoxification of around 10 days at $60, a fee that majority of addicts can not afford.

Add to this the per day cost of some $4 for the subsequent rehabilitation process, which could take another one or two months.

He adds that although there are facilities in the government sector, there is not much commitment to drug rehabilitation on the part of the doctors.

The Pakistan drug abuse study reports that only 18 percent of the respondents had contact with a treatment facility and 64 percent said they had difficulty in getting treatment.

"The overwhelming majority -- 80 percent -- said that they could not afford the financial costs of entering treatment. Majority of drug treatment centers only provide physical detoxification with limited or no rehabilitation facility," Dr. Nadeem-Ur-Rehman said.

Abbas says Pakistan's worsening drug problem is linked to inadequate attention given to creating awareness and treatment of the problem, and foreign funding going heavily into for interdiction and supply reduction activities instead.

According to ODCCP, between 1976 and 2000, more than $35 million was spent in Pakistan on projects to grow crops other than poppy, but little has gone into drug prevention.

The $5.2 million it got for law enforcement between 1999 to 2003 is a far cry from the million dollars it has for drug abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention for 2001-2003.

ODCCP representative Thomas Zeindl Cronin has announced the improvement of 17 treatment and rehabilitation centers and the targeting of young people from eight districts for drug prevention activities, but Pakistani officials are not convinced.

Some say that Pakistan could use help in controlling the effects on drugs on society after it helped influence the Taliban to control poppy cultivation.

"Pakistan delivered... in the past. Now the international community is controlling Afghanistan and there is a bumper crop. Shouldn't it be coming to Pakistan's help to control the rising abuse?" asked a senior official in the Narcotics Control Division.

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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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