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More Afghan Opium May Mean More Pakistani Addicts


In addition to economic challenges and insurgent violence, analysts say Pakistan is facing a growing drug problem that is likely to worsen after international troops leave neighboring Afghanistan, the world's leading opium producer. The opium and derivatives come to Pakistan from neighboring Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, the number of people addicted to heroin and other opiates, like these in Karachi, are on the rise.

Mohammad Qurban has been an addict for 20 years. This is his second time in rehab. There are plenty of drugs here, he said, from marijuana to heroin. He said addicts come from all sectors of society.

"There is no distinction. A rich man parks his car behind and then comes to the footpath asking for a needle. They pay for the drugs and have it injected," he said. "The rich get their drugs from the poor. The person who gets the drug, sells the drug and uses the drug are the boys of the footpath."

The trail of drugs and addiction passes through the Pakistani cities of Peshawar in the northwest and Quetta in the southwest.

Estimates of drug users in Pakistan vary from 600,000 to nine million. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the actual number is likely somewhere in between, with a significant increase in the supply and use of opiates, including heroin, in the past five years.

Dr. Saleem Azam, who heads a rehabilitation center in Karachi, said drugs are easily available.

"These are available like peanuts; you are sitting in your office, you are sitting in your bedroom, you are sitting in your living room, you can call a person and he will drop the drug at your doorstep," said Azam.

The number of heroin and opiate users like Qurban are expected to increase when international combat forces leave Afghanistan in 2014 and opium production and smuggling are less controlled.

Fateh Muhammad Burfat, chairman of Karachi University's criminology department, says more heroin and opiates mean more crime.

"This drug use is also related with the arms. Illegal arms and drugs go together. In Pakistan, for example, heroin and Kalashnikovs [AK-47 rifles] usually go together," Burfat said.

Ultimately, the extent of Pakistan's drug problem will be determined by what happens next door in Afghanistan. The United Nations reported earlier this month that the amount of Afghan farmland devoted to opium poppies has increased by nearly 20 percent this year.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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