An alarming new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states Pakistanis consume $1.2 billion worth of heroin a year — 1.8 per cent of the global market. The frightening reality we see is, of course, reflected all around us. We have all come across drug users or heard of families whose lives have been destroyed by drug use. The details on drug use in Pakistan, released as part of the 2011 World Drug Report, reveal that Pakistan suffers due to its proximity to Afghanistan, which produces almost 90 per cent of the world’s opium. A considerable portion of it reaches across the border — and there have been some studies which indicate the price of the substance has not risen at the same pace as food or other essential items, a paradox that does nothing to discourage the use of the drug. There are also other facts that simply cannot be ignored. A UNODC study last year found growing drug use among women, a group that had previously been seen as free from problems of addiction. Another study, based in Larkana, had also found a growing population of injectable drug users — raising the risks of AIDS transmission and hepatitis.
The Pakistan Anti-Narcotics Force has claimed it has succeeded in preventing smuggling and seizing large quantities of heroin. But in more realistic terms, we need to assess if enough is being done to combat the drug problem. A UNODC and WHO mission which visited the country earlier this year had advocated better treatment for addicts. In most cases, drug users continue to be treated as criminals and not victims. This is, of course, a proposal that needs to be seriously considered. But we also need to do more to create awareness, and prevent the flow of the lethal white powder into our country by imposing better border controls, if the problem is to be effectively dealt with and the use of a drug that has destroyed millions of lives cut down across our country. For now, the problem continues to grow and that is disturbing.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2011.