Pakistan: use of heroin is rising

Pakistan, a country already tormented by regional insurgencies, is fighting a losing battle against a different kind of foe: drug dependency.

Eleven per cent of the population in Peshwar, close to the border with Afghanistan use drugs, primarily heroin. According to the most recent report on the country by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Drug Use in Pakistan 2013, there are 6.7 million people who use illicit substances, of which 4.25 million are considered drug-dependent. In this report UNODC calculates that more than 800,000 Pakistanis aged between 15 and 64 use heroin regularly.

Peshwar is at the center of the phenomenon of Pakistan's illegal drug trade, which is believed to generate $ 2 billion a year. As is often the case where illicit activities are concerned, these figures are difficult to verify. The drug trade has transformed Peshwar from a city where people were not afraid to walk on the streets and tourists were drawn to the city's bazaar, to a place where the tourist trade is dead and the drug economy is booming. Day and night, everywhere – in the backstreet gullies of Peshwar, at the bus station, in plain view of police stations, on grass verges, under railway bridges, on flat rooftops, near the main gate of the Central Jail, on busy roads – one can see hundreds of dishevelled men (even the odd woman) smoking or injecting heroin.

It is estimated that 44 tons of processed heroin is smoked or injected in Pakistan each year.

Heroin is an expensive habit for poor people, and there's another habit which is very dangerous, the sharing of syringes. Blood-borne diseases are easily spread through intravenous drug use. For this reason the number of drug users who are HIV positive from only 11 percent in 2005 rose to 40 percent in 2011.

Many people don’t have any idea about the risk of this habit, and for this reason UNODC has called the Pakistan government to address the problem through wide-ranging policy changes, HIV prevention campaigns and a support network for those struggling with addiction.

The UNODC report mentions that Pakistan sits on one of the world's busiest drug trafficking corridors, largely due to the cultivation of opium poppy and cannabis in Afghanistan, which is the producer of over 90 per cent of the world's non pharmaceutical opium and is also the world's largest producer of hashish. 40 per cent of heroin and hashish produced in Afghanistan are routed through Pakistan.

Pakistan's national and provincial governments appear unable, or unwilling, to respond to the manifest crisis of the country's narcotics addiction. Draconian laws are in place, with no distinction between soft and hard drugs, and the sanction of the death penalty in cases involving one kilo or more. Despite these laws, Pakistan has become one of the world’s most heroin-dependent countries.