Afghanistan: Demand for narcotics outstrips available treatment for drug addicts

News and Press Release
Originally published
KABUL, 26 June 2007 (IRIN) - For Hedayatullha, 35, Kabul is the only place to treat his heroin addiction. A fellow addict who underwent treatment at Kabul's Nejat Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) told him that it was one of the very few places able to help him.

"He [the treated addict] encouraged me to come here [to Kabul] to get rid of my addiction," Hedayatullha told IRIN.

Leaving his wife and five children behind in Urozgan Province, he headed north to Kabul. It took him four days to reach his destination.

He said he had been taking heroin and hashish for over 13 years and begged the hospital to treat him. However, the NRC said it had no beds available.

"We have only 10 beds, but the number of addicts who should be hospitalised is very, very high," said Tariq Suliman, the NRC director.

About two dozen drug addicts visit this small rehabilitation centre each day to get free treatment and help.

UN report on drugs

The World Drug Report 2007, a study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on 26 June, said there had been "significant and positive changes" in narcotics production and use almost everywhere in the world.

"Recent data show that the run-away train of drug addiction has slowed down," the report said.

In Afghanistan, however, the situation has been found to be quite the opposite. The country produces about 92 percent of the heroin consumed in the world, UNODC said.

"Opium production in Afghanistan remains a major problem," said the executive director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, in a statement on 26 June.

About one million people - or 3.7 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 27 million population - are considered to be addicted to different kinds of narcoticsincluding heroin, opium and hashish, according to UNODC.

Lack of treatment centres

According to Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN), there are 36 treatment and rehabilitation facilities for drug addicts in 22 of the country's 34 provinces.

"Eighty percent of drug addicts live in rural areas where there is a huge scarcity of drug addiction treatment facilities," Christina Gynna Oguz, UNODC representative for Afghanistan, said at a press conference on 25 June.

Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health and the UN have now turned to donors to fund a pioneering project - the treatment of drug addicts within the country's primary healthcare system, thus enabling drug users to access rehabilitation services at provincial hospitals.

Addicted women, children

The UNODC report found that women made up 2.1 percent of all drug addicts in Afghanistan.

In some rural parts of the country, where access to basic health services is limited, women use locally produced opium as a painkiller, to ease insomnia, or to make their children sleep.

"Women who weave carpets or do other jobs at home tend to give opium to their children to make them sleep, thereby enabling themselves to work undisturbed," Lotfullah Lotfi, a counter-narcotics official in the northern Balkh Province, told IRIN.

At least 60,000 children are addicted to narcotics in Afghanistan, the World Drug Report said.

Addicted females find it even harder than men to access treatment. Many men do not permit their female relatives to seek external drug addiction treatment due to conservative customs.

"We send our female staff to treat addicted women and young girls at their homes," said the NRC's Suliman. But for those in volatile regions even this approach is not possible for security reasons.

Ban Ki-moon's message

In his message to mark the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all member states to intensify efforts to reduce the demand for drugs worldwide.

"Combating drug abuse is a collective effort. It requires political leadership and sufficient resources - particularly for more and better treatment facilities," the Secretary-General's statement read.