With more than six million drug users and rising, can Pakistan win its fight against the billion-dollar narcotics trade?
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Pakistan has 6.7 million drug users. More than four million of them are addicts, amongst the highest number for any country in the world.
Abuse of cannabis and heroin is so rife that experts say it is cheaper to buy narcotics in Pakistan than food. It costs just 50 cents to get a high.
“The way you place an order with Pizza Hut for pizza, it’s even easier than that to place an order for drugs,” says Dr Mohammad Tariq Khan, who has been researching narcotics in Pakistan for more than 20 years.
Pakistan’s government and law enforcement blames the crisis on the endless flow of narcotics from neighbouring Afghanistan.
The war-torn country is the source of at least 75 percent of the world’s heroin, according to the UNODC, and much of it is trafficked through Pakistan on its way to lucrative foreign markets. Of the 150 tonnes of heroin that enters Pakistan each year, 44 tonnes is consumed locally.
The human cost of this flood of drugs making its way through Pakistan is extreme. On a sweltering Sunday inside a suburban bungalow in Karachi, 14-year-old Mohammad Shehzad is fighting an internal battle.
Shehzad started using hashish when he was nine. When he began detox three months ago, the withdrawal would send him into fits of rage.
Shehzad is living in Karachi’s only drug rehabilitation centre for children. It is run by the Alleviate Addiction Suffering Trust, a private NGO that cares for up to 25 boys at a time.
He says he is committed to staying clean, but his neighborhood is so rife with drug abuse that he has already relapsed several times.
“I tried twice at home to leave drugs but I couldn’t leave it,” he says, sitting on the roof of the drug rehabilitation centre. “I want to go to all those people whom I have hurt, people whose hearts I’ve broken. I want to ask for their forgiveness.”
Most, like Shehzad, are hooked on hashish or glue. But increasingly the staff is seeing children addicted to heroin.
“I can’t even count how many people do drugs in this city,” says Aftab Alam, 21, a former heroin addict who is now an outreach worker with the Trust. “There are so many addicts now. Their lives are destroyed, there are so many who have died.”
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