One of the largest yet often overlooked issues in the country of Pakistan is its drug abuse. The booming drug trade within the country has left areas that were once a comfortable marketplace for citizens to a violence-ridden wasteland. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in 2013 that 6.7 million Pakistanis abusively utilized drugs within the previous year. A staggering 4.25 million of the 6.7 million were thought to be drug dependent, meaning that these individuals were fully addicted. Ultimately, cannabis was listed as the most commonly used drug in Pakistan, and opiates (opium, heroin, etc.) were a close second. It is estimated that 44 tons of processed heroin is smoked or injected in Pakistan each year- an amount that is two or two to three times greater than the United States. Not surprisingly so, Pakistan’s illegal drug trade is believed to generate $2 billion a year. As a result, it is the most heroin addicted country, per capita, in the world.
The largest issue may be that of intravenous drugs. Oussama Tawil, UNAID country coordinator for Pakistan, noticed a sharp spike in the number of addicts in Pakistan who consume their drugs through injection. He states that in 2007, there were an estimated 90,000 injection drug users and the number has since risen to around 500,000. Tawil notes that the most-addicted areas were those bordering Afghanistan’s fertile poppy growing provinces and believes that location indeed plays a large role in influencing abusers. However, despite the concern for these large figures, there is an even bigger issue to note: if the needles are shared, intravenous drug use becomes a popular channel for the transmission of blood-borne disease. And of course, this is another increasingly common practice. A survey was conducted for regular injecting opiate users in Pakistan. It was found that 73% of respondents reported sharing a syringe, and it was further calculated to find that about a third of those were HIV positive. Moreover, in 2005, approximately 11% of Pakistani drug users were HIV positive, and in 2011, that number rose to 40%. With this it can be concluded that drug abuse is not just an issue when analyzing the figures, but it is also a rapidly expanding humanitarian concern, especially regarding sanitation and health.
Like many of the other human development problems within the country, the issue of drug abuse hits with greatest magnitude at the most vulnerable: those in poverty. The majority of drug users in Pakistan- and South Asia in general- belong to the poorest strata of society. Additionally, the presence of a large drug industry leads to a redistribution of wealth from the poor to a few rich individuals who control the drug trade. This not only widens the gap between the rich and the poor, but it also erodes Pakistan’s social cohesion and stability.
To alleviate the issue, the UNODC has called on the the Pakistani government to initiate a wide range of policy changes, HIV prevention campaigns, and a support network for those struggling with addiction. Although there have been some efforts, the government’s response has been minimal at best. Few programs are active in the country to help drug addicts, and the smuggling of drugs has gone almost entirely unchecked. It has been argued that the solution does not lie within hands of the government itself, but rather through mutual efforts from South Asian countries who suffer from similar impacts. Whatever the case is, it’s imperative for all of society to recognize the issue because maybe, just maybe, the collective whole posses the capacity to cause a change.
Photo Attribute: Wiki Commons