Govt failing to deal with increasing drug addicts in Baghlan
PUL-I-KHUMRI (Pajhwok): At least 50,000 individuals, mostly young, are addicted to drugs in northern Baghlan province and many of them are believed to be involved in drug peddling.
With unemployment blamed for their increasing number, a majority of the addicted persons are youth, who had returned from Iran. Some of them call for alms from people to find money for purchasing drugs.
The coffee orchard area in Pul-i-Khumri, the provincial capital, was earlier a public park, but now around 200 drug addicts have occupied the place and are living there.
Baz Mohammad, 28, a resident of the city, told Pajhwok Afghan News he traveled to Iran eight years ago and became a drug addict there.
“I once stopped using opium after I promised my family I would not use the substance, but a year ago I lost my job and did not find another job and finally returned to the habit of taking drugs.”
Mohammad confessed to selling the narcotics as well. He buys a packet of heroin from drug smugglers for 40 afghanis and sells it to drug addicts for 50 to 100 afghanis.
“No one has as yet prevented me from selling the drugs and I comfortably sell them to my friends and clients,” he claimed.
Baz, who got married three years back and have two children, said he earned enough money by selling drugs. He knew it was not a prohibited business, but said there was no other job to do.
He also underwent treatment at the 30-bed hospital of the Public Health Ministry, but returned to the use of opium for what he said his inability to find a job.
Baz said had the government established industries and created jobs, he would never have returned to the use of drugs nor he would have traveled to Iran where he became an addict for the first time.
The officials concerned say they are worried about the increasing number of people becoming drug addicts, but say it is beyond their ability to control the situation.
Fazal Haq Andarabi, head of the counternarcotics department, said the population of drug addicts was on the increase with the passage of time and the government had failed to control the phenomenon.
He said the number of drug addicts in Baghlan was 52,000 in 2004, citing a survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC).
Since then no survey could be conducted, but reports and other information show the number of drug addicts in the province has doubled since 2004, according to Andarabi.
He said in the past drug addicts could be seen individually in different parts of the city, but now they were found in droves and they had occupied parks and footpaths in Pul-i-Khumri.
He lamented some addicts were educated people and warned if the international community did not help Afghanistan control the increasing use of drugs, the situation would become more severe.
A recent survey has found that the number of people addicted to different kinds of drugs increased from 1.6 million in 2012 to three million 2015 across Afghanistan despite increased prices of the drugs.
Yar Mohammad, a young drug addict, said a small amount of opium cost 40 afghanis last year, but the same was currently sold for 120 afghanis.
“I am a labourer and earn 300 afghanis daily and consume five grams of opium. I have to switch to heroin because it is economical for a person like me.”
He said he wanted to quit using the illicit substance and live an honourable life with his family.
Dr. Rahim Khuda Noori, Baghlan drug addicts’ rehabilitation center head, said they lacked the capacity to approve more drug addicts for treatment.
He said more than 400 addicts had been registered for treatment and they were waiting for their turn.
“It is a 30-bed facility but 45 addicts are under treatment now and it takes one and a half months for an addict to be completely rehabilitated,” he added.
Dr. Noori said at least 300 drug addicts had so far been cured at the facility since its establishment in 2014.
“We treat drug addicts by using two methods, medicines and psychological techniques, but unfortunately some addicts again start using drugs and return back to our hospital for treatment,” he added.
The number of female addicts is also said to be in hundreds. Health officials say they could not treat all of them simultaneously.
Dr. Noori said more than 300 women were addicted to drugs in Baghlan and there was no proper treatment facility for them. He said these females were treated in their homes by family members.
Dr. Noori continued most of these women were addicted to heroin and opium. “These women are living in Pul-i-Khumri and Baghlan-i-Markazi district,” he said.
Khadija, a resident of Mullahkhil village of Baghlan-i-Markazi district, said her husband, who recently died in a traffic accident, had encouraged her to use drugs like him.
The 38-year-old widow said she used to sell household items to buy drugs in case she lacked money. “One day my father’s family understood about me and they took me to their home,” she said.
“I would smoke opium secretly from my family because I needed it, but finally my father understood it and he took me to hospital for treatment,” Khadija added.
The mother of four children said she had been using drugs for two years, but now she had recovered and had not used the drugs for the last six months.
“My brothers help me, I also work in farm fields and in irrigating crops to earn some legitimate food to my children,” she added.
Baghlan Labour and Social Affairs Director Mushtaq Ahmadi said joblessness in Afghanistan was the main cause of people’s addiction to drugs and the fleeing of thousands of youth to foreign countries.
He estimated at more than 1000 youth who had migrated to Iran, Pakistan and European countries from Baghlan this year alone.
Ahmadi said his department with support from the World Food Program (WFP) had trained 2,500 youth in carpentry, metal smith, carpet weaving and making yarn last year.
He said the trained youth were currently busy running their own shops in Pul-I-Khumri, Nahrain and Andarab districts.
The Aga Khan Development Network has arranged training courses for nearly 500 women in Pul-i-Khumri in carpet weaving and yarn weaving and the women would complete their courses soon, Ahmadi said.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Saudi Arabia have agreed with the Afghan Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to provide jobs to Afghan workers and the youth in Baghlan are also being prepared to be sent to these countries, he said.
Drug addicts are found in Khost, Farang, Baghlan-i-Markazi, Nahrain, Khinjan and Andarabha districts of the province, but a survey to know their exact numbers is yet to be conducted because due to a lack of budget, he adds.
Mohammad Usman Sherzai, cultural and social committee chairman of the civil society network, said the number of drug addicts was increasing with each passing day.
A year back, the addicts would be found only in Quwa Khan Garden of Pul-i-Khumri but now they are seen in every parts of the city, he said, accusing the addicts of stealing goods from people’s houses and shops at night.
He said hospital for curing addicts was available but the facility could not cope with the large number of addicts. He said the government had no programme for the collection and treatment of such people.
Earlier, the civil society network with the help of the labour and social affairs department and the counternarcotics department of the police headquarters had tried to know the number and the situation of drug addicts.
More than 400 addicts were registered in four days, but the process was stopped because the number of addicts would increase day by day, he added.
Sherzai also said the number of drug dealers had increased and around four kilograms of heroin and 20 kg of opium were daily sold in the city.
However, counternarcotics head Col. Nizamuddin Nizam said they had arrested 10 drug retailers during the past one month and seized more than a tone of drugs including opium, heroin and hashish in the past one year, when more than 30 drug traffickers were detained.
He said they recently arrested 25 addicts for selling drugs, but they were released after 15 days due a lack of space for them in jail.
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