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Drug abuse rising in Afghanistan, warns CND

KABUL, 22 Nov 2004 (IRIN) - Drug abuse is continuing to rise with little happening in the area of demand reduction, the Afghan Counter Narcotics Directorate (CND) warned on Sunday at a donor conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"We are noticing that illicit drug abuse is rising day by day and becoming a big problem," Alamuddin Atheer, CND's deputy director told IRIN. While there were tens of thousands of drug addicts in Afghanistan, there remained only one rehabilitation centre for the entire country, he said.

"There is only a 30-bed government centre and a 10-bed facility run by an NGO in the capital, Kabul, which has more than 60,000 drug addicts," Atheer said, adding that there were no such facilities in the provinces.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the world's largest poppy growing country, providing more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium, with 4,200 mt of opium produced in 2004.

The CND official maintained that drug abuse had worsened following the lack of a serious response towards demand reduction over the past three years of the country's reconstruction.

Latest figures for Kabul in 2003 from the UNODC put the number of addicts in the city at more than 60,000. Of this figure, about 7,000 are heroin users, nearly 11,000 opium addicts, nearly 25,000 hashish smokers, with the remainder addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol.

Atheer attributed part of the increase to the return of millions of refugees from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, as well as a surplus of cheap drugs on the market.

According to the CND, while there was no confirmed number of addicts in the country, reports from some provinces were alarming. "For example, in some districts of Badakhshan [northeastern province] we have found out that more than 60 percent of the population uses opium."

Meanwhile, the CND said that there were thousands of women suffering from opium addiction throughout the country, as well as amongst the large refugee populations in Pakistan and Iran. And while there was no accurate data on female addiction levels, it is estimated that in Badakhshan alone, up to 60,000 women were addicted.

Atheer said, also in Turkmen areas of northern Afghanistan, women traditionally used opium while they weaved carpets and gave it to their children to keep them calm.

But the local Afghan NGO Nejat that runs a treatment and rehabilitation centre in Kabul cautioned against the available data on the number of drug addicts. Nejat claims that few will admit to using drugs, which are considered unclean and forbidden by Islam. "The problem is more than is estimated as very few people will confess they are drug addicts," Tareq Sulaiman, the director of Nejat, told IRIN.

Lack of public awareness is the leading cause of increasing numbers of addicted people - Sulaiman explained. "There is a huge lack of awareness among the people. Many Afghans still think drug abuse is a foreign problem," he added.

"We need a comprehensive national public awareness campaign to make people aware that already tens of thousands are victimised by drug abuse and that their sons 'not just people outside the country' are at risk from illicit drugs addiction," he said.

The CND has urged the donor community to help them establish new treatment centres in other cities of the country. "Initially there is an urgent need for rehabilitation and treatment centres in main cities like Kabul itself, Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west, Mazar-e Sharif and Badakhshan provinces," Atheer maintained.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 11/23/04 ... --

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