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Number of addicts may be 10 times higher than estimate
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE –The number of newly registered drug addicts in Tajikistan shot up in 2011 from 380 to 657, a 73% increase from 2010, according to the Ministry of Health.
Although some observers say the higher number indicates only greater awareness, the Ministry of Health report is worrisome because it shows substance abusers are becoming younger, with more teenagers among them.
In Tajik society, teenaged addicts rarely undergo registration and treatment. Parents are likelier to try to deal with the problem themselves or to turn to traditional healers.
Spin Plus, Tajikistan’s best-known drug counselling organisation, is treating about 100 patients. It offers psychological and medical care, including methadone substitution.
Rustam Umarov, 33, has received treatment for nine months.
“Methadone is my substitute for heroin, which I took for the past 10 years,” he said. “I have overcome the physical pain, but the craving for drugs is still there.”
Umarov said that he first tried gateway drugs at school, before using heroin at university. He was eventually arrested for drug possession and served four years in prison.
“I served my time, returned to normal life and started a family, but then I got into it again,” he said. “My wife left me and took our son ... I came here when I realised that nothing awaited me except death.”
Counsellors work with Umarov and other patients, or friends, as they are commonly called at Spin Plus. All of the counsellors are themselves former drug addicts.
Khurshed Aminov, 40, has been clean for four months and has even been able to stop substituting methadone. He works with those who are still trying to overcome their craving for drugs.
“If you look at me, no one would say that I used to be, as I would say, a complete addict. I shot up several times a day for 20 years,” he said. “Now many people look at me and think that I do wrestling. My body recovered very quickly, and I started gaining weight again.”
Pulod Jalolov, the 40-year-old founder of Spin Plus, has led a healthy lifestyle for eight years but spent 18 years addicted to drugs. He said that, after beating his addiction, he decided to help his brothers in distress. Drugs nearly killed him, he said, so he decided to clean up for good.
Figures could be 90% too low
The country has 7,117 drug addicts, according to the Ministry of Health, but authorities and analysts agree that the figure is likely 10 times higher.
“The only addicts who register come of their own free will or find themselves in clinics as a result of circumstance. The fact that the number of newly registered cases in the past year has increased indicates a growing demand for treatment,” said Jalolov.
Ready access to drugs is the main reason for the prevalence of drug addicts nationwide, said Mahmadrahim Malakhov, director of the Gulyamov Republican Drug Therapy Centre.
“From 1997 to 2008 our country saw an increase in the incidence of drug use, but starting from 2008, there has been a decrease,” he said. “In 2008, 122.7 cases were registered per 100,000 people, while today it has decreased to 94.7 cases per 100,000 people.”
The Taliban are chiefly to blame for Tajikistan’s drug problem, Lt. Yogub Mirzoyev of the Dushanbe police said.
“We're on the drug route from Afghanistan to Europe, and of course, some of the drugs stay with us,” he said. “In recent years, many measures have been taken to address the problem, but the situation remains difficult.”
Conditions are improving because of measures the government has taken since 2008, including the Unified State Programme on Substance Abuse Prevention and Resistance to Drug Trafficking, Malakhov said.
“We have combined forces: the law enforcement authorities, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Women’s and Family Affairs Committee, and the Youth Affairs Committee are all working together,” he said.
“Within the unified programme, we do educational work in schools and universities, and also conduct routine work for the early detection of substance abuse,” he said. “As a result there has been a surge of newly registered cases of drug addiction.”
Drug treatment clinics now operate in every oblast, with particular focus on Khatlon Oblast, which lies on the main drug-trafficking route from Afghanistan, he said.
“The clinics are now fully staffed, and are already getting good results,” he said. “Now we can say with certainty that the overall situation regarding drug use in the country is under control.”
However, even Malakhov, a physician, said the true number of addicts is much higher than reported. “The figures ... indicate that for each patient registered in the republic, there are five unregistered cases.”
The head of the Tajik Ulema Council, Saidmukaram Abdukodirzoda, has called the public, including imam-khatibs, to join the fight against this vice:
“I use every opportunity to remind Muslims about the dangers of this evil,” he said. “Every religion condemns suicide, and drug abuse is slow suicide. In this regard, the Koran said: ‘Do not kill yourself with your own hands. Do not harm yourselves or others.’
“I can say with certainty that drugs endanger the country’s future, because the offspring of weak and poisoned men cannot be healthy,” he said. “Drugged minds cannot take clear and correct actions. Those who have gone down that route should come round and choose the right path, so they don’t lose this life and the afterlife too.”
Aminov is sure that anyone can shake off addiction and return to a normal life.