NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control was told that the country is home to about 7 million drugs users. Further, 700 people die every day from drug-related incidents in Pakistan, making drug use a major source of concern in the troubled country.

The committee, chaired by Senator Rehman Malik, was briefed by director general (DG) of Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) Maj Gen Khawar Hanif. The brief stated that of an estimated seven million drug addicts in Pakistan, a staggering three million were those who used medicines without prescription.

Further, Maj Gen Hanif said that drug-related deaths were greater than those caused by terrorism, with the latter claiming 39 lives a day as compared to the 700 people who die in drug related incidents every day.

The brief also noted that although Pakistan had been declared a “poppy-free” country since 2011, the increase in area of poppy cultivation in neighbouring Afghanistan has had a direct impact on Pakistan.

The points raised by the brief are corroborated by a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report (2014) that stated that 6.7 million adults, or six percent of the country’s population aged 16 to 64, admitted to using drugs in the last 12 months.

The report, “Drug Use in Pakistan 2013”, prepared by UNODC with the help of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the Narcotics Control Division, concluded that Pakistan had developed a “serious drug problem.” Of the 6.7 million drugs users, 78 percent were men and 22 percent were women. Men tended to use cannabis and opiates whereas a majority of drug abuse amongst women involved prescription drugs. 67 percent of women used opiate-based painkillers, 25 percent admitted to using tranquilizers and sedatives, and eight percent were using other drugs readily available in pharmacies. A large number of users were between 25 and 39 years of age. The report revealed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have the highest levels of dependence.

4.25 million of the respondents were classified as “drug dependent” with marijuana or charas being the leading drug of choice at 4 million users, followed by heroin at 860,000. The increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan which rose by 36 percent from 1996 to 2013 coupled with the demand for it in Europe, Asia and North America has led to the emergence of a local market for opium in Pakistan, which is a transit route in the opium trade with with 40 percent of the world’s opium supply moving through the country’s territory.

The surge in drug use is particularly worrying in Pakistan as a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and access to healthcare is limited as an outcome of this economic reality. With the high number of drug dependents, treatment centres are available to less than 30,000 users a year.

Another worrying insight revealed by the report is in reference to the number of injecting drug users in a country that ranks in the top 15 in the world in terms of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other blood borne-diseases. 430,000 people were classified as intravenous drug users, an estimate higher than previously recorded. Further, 73 percent of those injected drugs said they used shared syringes. The number of drug users with HIV has risen consistently, from 11 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2008 to almost 40 percent of the total number who inject drugs in 2011.

The report recommended an action plan in accordance with measures outlined in the Pakistan Vision 2025 plan. It called for the involvement of all stakeholders - civil society, government, young people and international partners, pointing to wide ranging policy measures including the training of professionals, HIV prevention, and demand reduction measures.

However, in the year since the report was released, there has been no improvement, with the Senate brief indication, on the contrary, that things may have gotten worse.