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There are warning signs for a rapid expansion in the HIV epidemic in Pakistan according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC).

The UNODC revealed its findings in a report titled ‘Drug Use in Pakistan 2013’ which also marked the use of various drugs among Pakistanis as ‘very high’.

The report, which was launched in Islamabad, was compiled after a detailed survey conducted in 2012. The survey results detected a very high prevalence of HIV risk behaviours among people who were also injecting drugs users (IDU).

According to the report majority of people who tested positive for HIV and were IDUs were unaware of their infected status, and subsequently were not taking precautions to prevent further transmission.

Due to a lack of awareness regarding how HIV is transmitted opportunities to prevent infection are likely to be missed.

The study also revealed drug use in Pakistan as being ‘highly differential by gender’ stating the use among men was ‘very high’ where as with women it was generally low. The low levels for women are, however, offset by considerable levels of misuse of prescription opioids, tranquilisers and sedatives.

It is important to mention here that while prevalence estimates reported here are more extensive than estimated in previous surveys they are still likely to underestimate drug use among women.

There is a considerable past-year use of both plant-based and medical prescription drugs, particularly cannabis, prescription opioids (painkillers), tranquilisers and sedatives, and opiates (heroin and opium), the report read.

Reported to be the first ever comprehensive national study on drug use across the country it provides baseline information on the prevalence and patterns among population aged 15 to 64.

Interviews of 4,500 high-risk drug users , 58 drug treatment centre representatives, 1,200 key informants and 51,000 participants randomly selected from the general population were used to compile the data for the study which shows prevalence and pattern of drug use in Pakistan.

The survey reads: ‘Although Pakistan is a country with a large population of youth, drug use was more common among those between the ages of 25 to 39 than 15 to 24.’

Among drug users detected in these surveys, dependence and severity of dependence were high. Of the 6.7 million past-year users of any illicit substance, 4.25 million are considered to be drug dependent.

Further, among those who are dependent, there is an overwhelming need for drug dependence treatment and care interventions including low-threshold services, both of which need to be up-scaled.

Three-quarters of the regular opiate users interviewed reported a strong desire for treatment, but cited either a lack of access or an inability to afford treatment.

Also, taking into consideration the very high levels of dependency among those who were detected, it is believed that recreational or casual drug use is more common but was not detected due to under reporting in the general population.