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    21 June 2010

    UNODC Reports Major, and Growing, Drug Abuse in Afghanistan

    "Opium addiction has followed the same hyperbolic growth of opium production"

    VIENNA, 21 June (UN Information Service) - A survey on Drug Use in Afghanistan, issued today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that around one million Afghans (age 15-64) suffer from drug addiction. At eight per cent of the population, this rate is twice the global average. "After three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

    "The human face of Afghanistan's drug problem is not only seen on the streets of Moscow, London or Paris. It is in the eyes of its own citizens, dependent on a daily dose of opium and heroin above all - but also cannabis, painkillers and tranquilizers," said Mr. Costa.

    "Many Afghans are taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life. Significantly, many of them began taking drugs as migrants or refugees in camps in Iran and Pakistan," noted Mr. Costa. Yet, instead of easing pain, opiate use is causing even greater misery: it creates behavioural, social and health problems, crime, accidents, and loss of productivity in the workplace. Injecting drug use, as well as sex traded for drugs or money, spread HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

    During the past five years (in 2005 a similar survey was done), in Afghanistan the number of regular opium users has jumped 53 per cent, from 150,000 to 230,000 while the number of heroin users has increased from 50,000 to 120,000, a leap of 140 per cent. "In Afghanistan the growth of addiction to narcotics has followed the same hyperbolic pattern of opium production," observed Mr. Costa.

    One of the most shocking statistics in this report is the number of parents who give opium to their children; as high as 50 per cent of drug users in the north and south of the country. "The next generation of Afghans risks being condemned to a life of addiction. And addiction will grow exponentially, as each family on average has half a dozen kids," said Mr. Costa.

    The report reveals a major shortage of drug treatment. Only ten per cent of drug users surveyed had received any form of drug treatment, although 90 per cent of them felt that they were in need of it. "More than 700,000 Afghans have no access to drug treatment. I invite the nations that support Afghanistan's efforts to curb drug cultivation to help it as well overcome its drug-related health crisis," said Mr. Costa. He called for much greater resources for drug prevention and treatment in Afghanistan, as part of mainstream healthcare and development programmes.

    "Much has been said, and written, about Afghanistan as a leading producer of drugs, causing health havoc in the world. It is time to recognize that the same tragedy is taking place in Afghanistan, that has now become a leading consumer of its own opium," said Mr. Costa.

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    For further information contact:

    Walter Kemp
    Spokesman and Speechwriter, UNODC
    Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629