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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Afghans seek relief in drugs
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC, Afghanistan

An addict recovers from drugs addiction in a Kabul hospital
Hard drugs are becoming more widely available, the report says
The first ever assessment of drugs usage in the Afghan capital Kabul has shown that heroin, opium, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs are being used by thousands of people across the city.

The assessment, made by the United Nations, also shows that many returning refugees and women are among the drug users.

The findings were based on interviews with 200 drug users and with 100 specialists, such as doctors, health workers and police.

The final report concludes there are at least 24,000 hashish users, nearly 11,000 opium users and 7,000 heroin users in the Afghan capital, as well as nearly 7,000 who drink alcohol.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime emphasises that these are minimum estimates and that actual numbers of drug users are bound to be much higher.

Drugs capital

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium and its derivative, heroin.

Most is smuggled illegally to the West and to neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. But consumption of hard drugs in Afghanistan itself has usually not been considered a widespread problem.

These figures, while not high on a per capita basis, show there has been a steady growth in drug use here over the past decade.

Taliban notice, Kabul, Afghanistan
An old Taleban notice warns against leisurely use of narcotics
Opium is a traditional medicine in Afghanistan and hashish smoking has always been common, though frowned on.

The use of heroin and pharmaceutical drugs is a more recent problem.

Nearly one-third of the opium users interviewed were women, as were more than a third of those who abused pharmaceuticals such as valium.

Nearly half of the heroin users had begun their habit as refugees in Pakistan or Iran, both countries with a major problem of heroin addiction.

The authors of the report say drug use has been growing in Kabul because of the easy availability as the illegal narcotics trade has grown.

In addition, the war, poverty and unemployment have meant that many people suffer from anxiety and emotional and health problems and turn to drugs as an escape.

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