Cairo: Freedom of expression has no limits in Egypt after January 25 Revolution. Everyone could protest everywhere. But the revolution has caused probably another negative effect: drug abuse with no limits, experts say.
Amr Othman, head of the Fund for Drug Control and Addiction Treatment, warned before the Vanguard Parliament Conference two days ago that “drug abuse in Egypt has reached disastrous levels and surpassed the international average.”
About 7 per cent of the population uses drugs compared with 5 per cent internationally, said Othman. He linked the figures to weakness in the role of the family, too much free time and a desire to experiment.
But Major General Tareq Esmail, Director of Anti-Narcotics General Administration (ANGA) told Gulf News that there are additional reasons. “Security deteriorating, absence of an effective religious discourse, increasing unemployment and lack of control over the borders with neighbouring countries following the toppling of the former regime have led to a boom in trade and drug abuse.”
Highlighting efforts currently exerted by the security agency to contain the situation, he explained that more than 32,457 cases of drug trafficking have been detected last year.
He pointed out that 78 tons of Bango [a type of marijuana popular in urban Egypt], 12.5 tons of hashish, 96 kilos of heroin, 41 kilos of cocaine, 50 kilos of opium, 25 kilos of Yemeni narcotic qat and 435 million Tramadol pills were seized.
“This crisis might lead to a social collapse in Egypt,” Esmail warned.
Sameh Saif Al Yazal, a retired general and chairman of Al Gomhouria Centre for Political and Security Studies, said “the eradication efforts in Egypt seized maximum 20 per cent of the total drug trafficking.” That could explain how much narcotics are available on the streets.
Tamer Al Amroushy, director of the addiction unit at the Ministry of Health, said “there is no doubt that drug abuse has risen significantly since January 25. Fifty to 60 per cent of my patients in recovery stopped showing up half way through last year, accounts of relapse are higher than ever, more addicts than ever before are now joining the waiting list to receive treatment, and the level of addiction is often more severe.”
Amroushy admits that it is hard to determine whether or not addiction has actually increased, or if more people are simply seeking help to stop using drugs, but he says that first hand accounts from the drug users tell him that drug abuse has gotten worse.
“We are hearing that Tramadol and other illicit drugs are everywhere now, and without consistent police force on the streets, dealers are more comfortable and daring, and so they now more openly linger around public areas and primary schools,” he said.
Azza Korayem, professor of sociology at the National Centre for Social and Criminal Research, stressed that widespread abuse of narcotics was due to bullying and the absence of security. She noted that these conditions were endemic in shantytowns.
“These conditions spread among young manual, labourers and unemployed young men who spend most of their time in coffee shops. The drug traffic has moved from side streets into the main ones and squares. Drug dealers want to make quick profits. They buy narcotics in pharmacies and sell them at inflated prices.” However, she hoped they would disappear, if security were restored.
The Health Committee of the Shura Council (Upper Parliamentary House) has set the alarm on the phenomenal rise of addiction among youth particularly during the past five years.
It reported recently that the drug abuse has shot up in Egyptians aged above l5 by 6.4 per cent to reach 30 per cent of 16 year olds and over.
The committee underlined the fact that addiction rate in Cairo has jumped to comprise 7 per cent of the capital’s population in the said period.
MP Mohammad Saeed Ramadan referred to relevant statistics conducted by the ministry of health in collaboration with Cairo University, the largest state-run educational institution in Egypt. It says that around 60 per cent of university students across the country are drug addicts.
According to the Health Committee report, rising addiction rates were found to be partially due to the spread of erroneous concepts among young people. It said that 30.6 per cent of addicts believe that drugs increase physical abilities, whereas 36.6 per cent associate drugs with getting over adversities while 34.8 per cent do drugs to overcome depression.
The latest drug abuse report produced 2012 by the ministry of health shows drug addiction in Cairo to be at record high levels, with 5-6 per cent of the population believed to be addicted to some form of drugs. That figure translates to 1.4 million people, and the drugs most likely to cause addiction are heroin and Tramadol, a synthetic opiate pharmaceutical.
“This statistic is not casual users, which is 25-30 per cent of the population and includes consumers of hashish and alcohol, it means five to seven percent are abusing drugs harmfully and are dependent, which is incredibly high,” says Emad Hamdi Ghoz, the head of psychiatry at Cairo University and the leader of the team that conducted the study.
These statistics also make Cairo the country’s drug abuse capital, as other governorates data show a 1.6 per cent addiction rate, and a 10 per cent casual user rate.
Hamdi Ghoz believes that the old regime had created divides in society that were causing addiction levels to increase steadily.
“The relationship between work and success, morals and values were stripped away, obviously leading the vulnerable — the young, poor, and uneducated — to fall deep into addiction,” he said. “Also, the way the law was enforced - treating addicts as convicts rather than patients - exacerbated the problem.”
“However, the data for the report was actually collected a couple of years ago, in two waves, during 2009 and 2010, meaning it does not directly reflect last year. There is always delay time between data collection and the final report,” he said.
Despite the aforementioned delay, psychiatrists and medical workers believe that addiction levels have actually gotten worse, especially since the revolution began.
Though there is no collected data to back up this view yet, several doctors have offered to share their experiences of the past year in order to paint a better picture of the current state of drug addiction in the country’s capital.
But the newly stated statistics may not be final facts. They contradicted somehow with old ones. Five years ago percentages of those who addicted to drugs were lightly higher than now.
An official study published by Egypt’s National Council for Fighting and Treating Addiction (NCFTA) in October, 2007, reported that roughly 8.5 per cent of Egypt’s population, amounting to 6 million people, are addicted to drugs. The majority are aged between 15 and 25.
Bango was the drug of choice, but cocaine, heroin and chemical drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine were also widely available on the local market, the study found.
About 439,000 children were regular drug users in Egypt. Of the 12.2 per cent of Egypt’s students dependent on drugs, 9 per cent smoke Bango, 3 per cent prefer hashish and 0.21 per cent take heroin or chemical drugs, NCFTA said.
*Ayman Sharaf is an Egyptian Journalist based in Cairo.