UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
AFGHANISTAN: New figures on drug use cause alarm
KABUL, 24 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Results of Afghanistan’s first nationwide survey on drug use, released on Thursday, show high levels of abuse throughout the post-conflict country, which remains the biggest producer of opium in the world.
The survey, conducted by the ministries of counter narcotics and public health over 2005, revealed that there were at least 920,000 drug users in Afghanistan, including about 150,000 who take opium, 50,000 using heroin and 520,000 taking hashish.
A total of 1,480 key informants and nearly 1,400 drug users were interviewed across the country for the survey.
“We are concerned about some results from the survey but also pleased that this will now enable us to take more focused action to tackle this problem,” deputy counter-narcotics minister Gen Khodaidad said on Thursday.
“It is shocking news for the people of our country,” Khodaidad noted.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also expressed concern about the number of regular drug users in the country. “The survey shows a rather high number of drug addicts in a population of around 24 million,” Doris Buddenberg, UNODC representative in Afghanistan, said.
“The findings of the survey will be important to target future activities in drug demand reduction, including prevention as well as treatment,” Buddenberg explained. Resources for drug demand reduction have so far been limited but need to be increased to further develop prevention and treatment programmes, the UN agency underlined.
“To tackle the problem of drug addicts in Afghanistan, we need to launch a countrywide awareness programme. The people should know the dangers of drug usage. Religious scholars, teachers, and tribal elders could play a significant role in this regard,” Mohammad Zafar, director of the government’s drug demand reduction programme, said.
One of the current problems is the lack of medical facilities for the treatment of drug users. There is only one hospital in the capital with facilities to treat addicts.
“We are planning to establish new hospitals for drug addicts in the next year,” Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the health ministry, told IRIN.
On a regional basis, the survey suggests the level of drug use is much higher in the central and northern regions of Afghanistan than in other areas. The highest level of drug use was found in the capital, followed by provinces bordering Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Although the amount of land under poppy cultivation fell by 21 percent over the past year, production is still high, meaning Afghanistan produces about 87 percent of the world’s supply of opium, most of which is used to make heroin.
Donors, including the United States and Britain, are funding a drive to destroy opium crops, smash drug laboratories and arrest smugglers, as well as to help farmers to switch to legal alternatives to the highly profitable poppy crop.
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