CAIRO: Drug abuse continues to be a rising threat in the Arab world especially among teenagers and young adults, according to the Annual Report for the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
Typically, people who had not started using drugs during their adolescent years were unlikely to pick up the habit at all.
However, according to the report, more cases of young adults using drugs for the first time have been reported recently.
Mohamed Abdel Aziz, regional representative of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, discussed the report at the United Nations Information Center last Wednesday.
“Another new trend is the increase in young women using drugs . the gap between the level of drug abuse by young men and women has narrowed, Abdel Aziz said.
In the Arab world, the increase in drug abuse can be attributed to facilitating distribution channels.
The Middle East has recently emerged as a market for drugs such as cocaine.
In 2007, about 30 percent of the global seizures of those substances were found in the region with 27 percent in Saudi Arabia.
Captagon, or “amphetamine, has become the Arabian Peninsula’s favorite drug. In 2008 the Middle East accounted for 73 percent of global seizures, according to the report.
“There are many reasons why the abuse is on rise in the region, said Abdel Aziz. He explained that the Middle East and North Africa enjoy an exceptional geographical position with different sea ports surrounding the area.
Moreover, other factors including globalization, high unemployment rates and the affordability of narcotics in the Arab world contributed to the increase of its abuse.
In Egypt, the cannabis herb was illicitly produced. Moreover, opium poppy cultivation is confined on a limited scale in Sinai Peninsula.
“For the past three years, there has been no cannabis herb production in Egypt, but there have been illicitly imported tons, said Gamal Farouk, head of the Anti-Narcotics General Administration.
According to Farouk, three tons of the herb were imported in January 2010 and two tons were imported in February through the eastern borders.
Another major concern the report highlighted is the abuse of prescription drugs.
The INCB report said that more people are abusing such drugs as opposed to heroin and cocaine.
The report warns that prescription drugs endanger children and young people, with emphasis on the abuse of opioids sold as oxycontin and Vicodin.
“Now you can find 11-year-old boys addicted to drugs, Abdel Aziz said.
Abdel Aziz cited students who use expired drugs to calm their nerves before sitting for an exam.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO) about 1 percent of ill health in the world can be attributed to drug abuse, Abdel Aziz said.
The INCB report urged governments to either prohibit or closely control the sales of internationally controlled substances by internet pharmacies and call centers, to crack down on illegal supply.
Farouk explained that there have been different campaigns to eradicate the acres of opium poppy and acetic anhydride which is used to produce heroin.
“In 2009, we found 55 kilos [of cocaine] in Nuweiba, Farouk said, “we investigated and discovered that this huge quantity . was en route to Europe and America.
The report explains that capacity building initiatives have been launched in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco to provide a comprehensive response to drug abuse.
These initiatives include community outreach services for drug abusers, drug abuse prevention services and treatment services for drug abusers, including prison inmates.
There has been also joint measure between countries in the Middle East to fight drug trafficking, which according to the report has continued to bring in good results.
However, Abdel Aziz maintains that “there isn’t a strong political will to stop drug abuse.
This report highlights concrete reasons why the international community should give extensive attention to prevent drug abuse.
“To be effective, primary prevention needs to move from rhetoric to action, said Sevil Atasoy, president of the INCB.
She explained that priority is given to the highly visible but short-lived responses such as a standalone media campaign.
Prevention campaigns need to be supported by other complementary measures to result in significant social and economic benefits, she said.