Drug abuse goes out of control
The country’s deaddiction centres are not able to keep up with the spiraling drug abuse. With nearly 1.6 million addicts including children and women the rampant use of an assortment of drugs has become a serious public health crisis. The Independent Media Consortium (IMC) Productions investigates.*
Millions of dollars are being spent on fighting drug addiction but a survey by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau in 2012 had showed a 70 percent increase in addicts from 2009.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) estimates the majority of addicts are male; 13 percent are women and 7 percent children. Afghanistan has some 105 deaddiction centres with a capacity to treat 25,000 addicts. A high 78 percent of addicts are hooked to heroin.
IMC conducted interviews in 12 districts, including Ghazni, Kunduz and Khost, to find the problem is widespread among Afghan migrant workers in Iran and Pakistan. Drugs have become a way out of the frustration of joblessness and family problems both abroad and within the country. Moreover family members, police and public deal insensitively with drug addicts.
Wahida, 25, who lives in Kabul’s 1st District, says her husband’s family ill-treats her because she is an addict.
Just 12 percent of interviewees are under treatment; 37 percent have never gone to a deaddiction centre; 29 percent have returned to drug abuse; and, 18 percent claim deaddiction centres rejected them. Only 4 percent of interviewees refused to participate.
Ali, 37, is a heroin-addict in Ghazni. He claims he has gone several times over the last three months to a 20-bed hospital in the hope of being admitted but each time he was turned back. “They don’t even have six patients at a time in the hospital, and when foreigners (donors or health professionals) visit they rent patients,” he alleges.
Karim Ahmadi says addicts come from Jangalak and Nejat hospitals to Kabul Hospital for deaddiction treatment. “But they are not admitted. There is no mercy in this country,” he says bitterly.
Dr Fawad Osmani, the head of the Anti-Narcotics Department of MoPH says all beds are full in their hospitals. “There is always demand,” he says. “In a city like Ghazni it is difficult to provide services to all addict patients.” Also, according to him, addicts return to drugs because of a lack of financial support. “Our patients remain jobless after the treatment which compromises the family’s financial situation. There is pressure from addict friends, and since smugglers and drug sellers remain unfettered, patients are slipping increasingly back to the habit of drugs,” he says.
No Follow up
An addict – a resident of Jalalabad who did not want to reveal his name – who has gone back to drugs blamed the lack of a follow-up programme for his plight. He claimed most ex-addicts returned at one time or the other to drugs.
Karimullah, 23, from Spanda village, Ghazni province, says he again took to drugs because he couldn’t find work after three months in a deaddiction centre in Gardez and three months in Ghazni. “When I recovered I searched a lot but failed to get a job,” he says.
Chaman Shah Etemadi, the representative from Ghazni and member of the parliamentary committee to counter narcotics said a lack of jobs and failure to provide vocational training to cured drug addicts were stumbling blocks to their successful rehabilitation.
He considered it the failure of the ministries of labour and social affairs, agriculture and others. There is only one vocational training centre.
Mohammad Ebrahim Azhar, the deputy head of Policy and Planning in the Ministry of Counter Narcotics links the return to addiction to social factors including the failure to stop opium cultivation and sale.
He claims, “We have a plan to reduce the number of relapsed drug addicts by 30 percent in the next five years.”
Since 2003 some 200 women and an equal number of male former drug addicts have annually got vocational training under the project funded by the drug deaddiction and treatment programme of the Colombo Plan, an Asia-Pacific intergovernmental programme promoting economic and social development. The project has been extended by 10 months. In addition, drug awareness programmes are conducted in 200 schools in 16 provinces. The Colombo Plan was conceived in 1950 for the economic and social development of people in south and south-east Asia.
Laila Haidari who has set up a deaddiction centre in Kabul thinks the follow-up is “poor”. “There are deaddiction programmes but the follow up is poor,” she says.
Abdul Hamid, an addict living in Kabul’s 5th District thinks quitting the habit entirely is not easy. Hashem, 30, from Anjeel district in Herat, has never heard of deaddiction programmes.
In fact, some 46 percent of drug addicts interviewed claim they had never heard about deaddiction facilities.
The centres also have their own set of problems with the government paying 85 Afs per day for a patient, which is not enough.
Dr Osmani says it does not cover the food costs, and patients are poorly fed. The MoPH has the daily allowance should be raised to 150 Afs. Private centres, meanwhile, get 5 USD per patient every day.
Mohammad Asef, 20, from Jalalabad says he was not able to complete his treatment because the hospital was “not giving us enough food”.
Trying to catch up
There are plans to open new clinics in Daikundi, Logar, Panjsher, Sarpul and Badghis provinces this year.
Mohammad Naser Sahrifi, the director, drug demand reduction, Ministry of Counter Narcotics agrees the number of addicts is likely to be over 1.6 million. He points out that under the National Policy announced in 1391 opium and heroin users are to get priority. “Their number was specified at 350,000 in 2009, and we should pay attention to them as the first step,” he told IMC.
An estimated 16 percent of addicts who were interviewed had complaints about deaddiction facilities and the staff. Mohammad Ershad, an 18-year-old heroin addict, says he was beaten by the doctor and does not intend to go back to the hospital. Mohsen, 25, from Deh Kamar Kulagh village, Anjeel district, said the police rounded up drug addicts like him and threw them into cold water. “Most people got sick, and some even passed away,” he says.
Noor Agha from Kabul says he was once picked up with other addicts and taken to a deaddiction centre in Jangalak. “They made us clean up the premises, and then let us go,” he claims. “We were 22 people.”
As much as 43 percent of those interviewed said hospital staff did not “pay attention to their problems”. Ahmad Rashid, 18, who has been on heroin since he was six says the police harass drug addicts but do nothing to prevent sellers on the street. “Narcotics is sold openly in front of police and staff of the National Security Department in Bagh Ali Mardan and Sarak Chel Metra but the police don’t do anything. They only beat us,” he says.
MoPH’s Dr Osmani is of the opinion that drug addicts are prone to exaggerating, and their complaints cannot always be trusted. “It is to hide the reality,” he feels. “Our staff are good,” he insists.
Mahdi Kazemi, a spokesperson of the Ministry to Counter Narcotics says there are raids on suspected drug sellers, and drug consignments are confiscated. He was hopeful Kabul would become a drug free city.
Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, the deputy director of Policy and Planning in the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, thinks unless anti-narcotics is considered a national issue the commitment to tackling it at all levels will be missing. Meanwhile, work is progressing on two big government centres in Helmand at a cost of 5 million USD and another at Nangarhar at a cost of 4 million USD.
The annual budget for deaddiction is roughly 14 million USD. But it is clearly not enough.
Daud Saski of counter narcotics in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan said most foreign donors were not interested in helping support treatment of individual drug addicts.
A third of the addicts beg or steal to support their habit. “Only if I had found work here like in Iran,” laments Zaher Khademi an addict in Pul-i-Sukhta, Kabul.
*Independent Media Consortium is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group (radio and print media), Saba Media Organisation (Saba TV-Radio Nawa networks) and daily newspaper Hasht-e-Subh. This story is part of a series of investigative reports on corruption and human rights cases supported by Tawanmandi.
A report by Killid reporter Kreshma Fakhri.
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