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The Daily Star - November 25, 2005 Survey shows nearly one million people in Afghanistan take narcotics KABUL: Almost one million people in Afghanistan take drugs, 7 percent of them children, according to results released Thursday from the first survey of narcotics use in the world's top opium-producing country. The nationwide study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan government showed that 3.8 percent of the population consumed drugs, more than half of them taking hashish. "My biggest personal concern is that 7 percent of all drug users are children ... that's very alarming," the UN agency's representative Doris Buddenberg told reporters. One of the reasons was that opium - which can be used to make heroin - was used in some families to keep children quiet, Buddenberg said. Also, children were sometimes involved in drug production. The survey found 170,000 adults, or 1.4 percent of the adult population, took often-addictive opium and heroin. This was within the range of addiction rates of neighboring countries, including Iran (2.8 percent) and Pakistan (0.8 percent), it said. It suggested there were 920,000 drug users among Afghanistan's 26 million people. They included about 150,000 who took opium, 50,000 heroin, 520,000 hashish and 180,000 non-prescribed pharmaceuticals, with some people taking more than one drug. Eighty percent were men and 13 percent women, the survey found. Afghanistan has more than 100,000 hectares of land under opium poppy cultivation, often by destitute farmers. The crop makes up about 87 percent of the world's supply of opium.The survey found that many users, up to half in the case of heroin, said they had first taken drugs in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, while in certain villages opium use was high because it was the only medicine available. The findings showed that drug use has "definitely" increased in Afghanistan, Counter-narcotics Ministry deputy director Mohammad Zafar said, adding that a survey of heroin users revealed 7,000 in Kabul in 2003 and 13,000 now. "The main reason for the increase of drug use is that life is getting tougher for people. They're tired, they've gone through war, exile then return, they're jobless or doing hard jobs," he said. It also showed a "substantial amount" of the drugs produced in Afghanistan were being consumed in country or within the region, Buddenberg said. The UNODC and U.S. government said in reports released Wednesday that the land under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan had been drastically cut over the past year for the first time since the 2001 fall of the hard-line Taliban government. However, the country still produces more than 4,000 tons of opium annually.

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