Pakistan has had a drugs problem for decades, and the report that 5.4 per cent of the population or 8.9 million people are substance abusers is no surprise and is in all probability an underestimate. The figure comes from a source that might be considered reliable — the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF). Its report also notes that an extremely niggardly Rs4 a year is allocated for each drug addict in the federal budget, Rs27 million in total. Whilst it may be argued that the government has better things to spend its limited funding on than drug addicts whose wounds are arguably self-inflicted, it cannot be denied that this is also a serious and escalating social problem that is not being adequately addressed. It is here to stay and will get worse, probably a lot worse.
The Director General of the ANF, Major General Khawar Hanif, informed the Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Anti-Narcotics on July 6 that there was no “proper policy” for the maintenance of rehabilitation centres for drug addicts across the country. The same is true for alcohol abusers, who are also rising in number.
Drugs are big business. In the last 17 years, the ANF has seized a startling 11,365 tonnes of narcotics, nearly 669 tonnes every year. It is impossible to know what tonnage was missed by the ANF, but it is reasonable to assume that at least an equal amount may have got through the net. A tiny proportion of that tonnage finds its way into the domestic market. Nobody sets out in life to become a drug addict or substance abuser; it is a gradual process, though poverty and unemployment are regularly cited in international studies as to the reasons why people become addicted or substance abusers. Every country in the world has a drug problem, there are no exceptions. Pakistan has a particularly vulnerable population of poorly educated people under 30 years, primarily male, but there is a significant minority of females who are also vulnerable, especially sex workers. As with so much else that ails the nation, the drug problem lacks a policy framework and supporting legislation. And yes, these unhappy people are worth much more than just Rs4 a year.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2015.
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