PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 2 (News Lens Pakistan) -- Pakistan faces a growing crisis of serious drug addiction but allocates only a fraction of the money needed to combat the problem, according to the country's Anti-Narcotics Force, the federal office tasked with combating narcotics smuggling and use.
Army Gen. Khawar Hanif, the ANF's director general, told the Senate Interior and Narcotics Control Committee in July that the federal government spends as little as 4 cents per addict each year. That amounts to $265,000 for 8.9 million addicts.
Hanif said there was no real policy for maintaining rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and alcoholics across the country.
Drug abuse is rampant in Pakistan, especially in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported in "Drug use in Pakistan 2013" that 10.9 percent of the province's population between the ages of 15 and 64 used an illicit substance in 2013.
The report, released last year, said cannabis, opioid and tranquilizer use were the highest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with prevalence rates of 4.7 percent, 5.8 percent and 2.4 percent respectively. Opiates are used by 1.4 percent of the population, with 140,000 people using heroin and 84,000 people using opium.
Azazudin, who only goes by one name and is manager of monitoring and evaluation at Dost Foundation – a Peshawar organization that works with groups including drug addicts and those with HIV/AIDS – said there are not enough facilities to treat those most at risk.
"Lack of proper treatment facilities for drug addicts in the province means the lives of about 1.6 million drug addicts are at risk," he told News Lens Pakistan.
The Dost Foundation is the only organization with a well-equipped center providing rehabilitation services to drug addicts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has treated 26,000 to 27,000 people since its start in 1992.
At one point, the foundation had 16 regional rehab centers, but they were shut down due to a lack of funds. Its one remaining center in Peshawar has a capacity of 350 patients.
Adult patients take 45 to 75 days for treatment, while children 8 to 18 years old take up to three months. They are treated for addictions to everything from hashish to opium and heroin and include intravenous drug users.
Azazudin told News Lens Pakistan that child addicts are mostly street children. After completing the treatment, the foundation tries to contact the parents in hopes they will take the children home so they do not become addicted again.
The foundation, funded mostly by donors, has 50 children and 200 adult drug addicts in treatment, of whom 150 adults and 15 children are also being treated for HIV/AIDS.
"Most of the drug users in our center are HIV-positive. They include Afghan refugees, migrants and Pakistanis deported back from other countries," with the Pakistanis sent back because they were HIV-positive, Azazudin told News Lens.
According to the UNODC report, Pakistan consumes 44 tons of heroin a year. About 110 tons of heroin and morphine are smuggled through Pakistan to international markets from Afghanistan annually.
The report said 74 percent of the world's opium is produced in Afghanistan, and 40 percent of this is supplied to the rest of the world through Pakistan. Another 34 percent goes through Iran, and the rest is smuggled through Russia and other Central Asian countries. Experts believe it is one of the main reasons that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a border province like Balochistan – which also has a high drug prevalence and addiction rate -- accounts for a high number of drug abusers.
Shahram Tarakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's health minister, told News Lens Pakistan that drug abuse is of grave concern and should be addressed on a priority basis not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but in the entire country.
"If drug abuse is not prevented at this stage, it will engulf the whole society," Tarakai said.
The provincial government has pledged to support the Dost Foundation to combat drug abuse. It plans to initiate a drug rehabilitation program in collaboration with the Dost foundation and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Social Welfare Department.
Muhammad Ali Babakhel, a Peshawar police official, said the ANF was doing all it could to control drug smuggling and availability. He said it was necessary to increase the public's cooperation with police to combat drug addiction.
"I think it is primarily an issue of demand and supply [of drugs], lack of parental and teacher control, access to Internet and depression in society," Babakhel said. "I think the first approach toward controlling drug abuse should be emphasis on prevention and education."