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February 23, 2013

A walk down the busy streets and narrow by lanes of Peshawar and Karachi

Whether one is in Kharadar, Kati Pahari, Banaras, Saeedabad, Sultanabad, Manghopir and Landhi or the more central areas of Karachi, one comes across a huge number of addictions and a variety of drug addicts.

A glazed look in their eyes; bodies visibly frail and worn by years of abuse, some can be seen injecting heroin into their swollen veins, others sniffing adhesive-laced rags, some puffing on freshly rolled joints — known as a soft drug — while others lie on the filthy pavements or abandoned carts, sleeping off a hash high.

Each day, vagabond teenaged boys, most of them rag pickers, huddle together in the morning to sniff at adhesive-laced pieces of cotton found in the trash of various carpentering units across the city.

Amin 14, sleeps most nights in a narrow lane near Bakra hotel in Kharadar. “I don’t buy Samad Bond,” he says. “Cotton pieces from the garbage are good enough for me.”According to him, several glue-sniffers eventually progress to heroin. “Now they are so badly addicted that they even beg and steal for a dose of heroin. It is popularly known as token and a single dose costs around Rs60 to 80.”

In Peshawar, people from all walks of life between 20-55 years use hashish, commonly referred to as garda, sheera and charas. Heroin users are divided approximately by the following ratio: 65 per cent street junkies, 20 per cent middle class and about 15 per cent by the elite, while cocaine remains purely an elitist domain probably because of its price being ten times that of hashish.

Hashish is sold mostly as garda, in packets of Rs100, Rs1,000 or Rs2,500 and a dealer who can get 25 clients can actually make up to Rs2 lacs a day.

The price per kilogram is based on the standard and quality of crop in the field and booked by distributors at 50 to 60 per cent less than the current market rate. After processing, drugs are distributed to  different places like Karkhano Market, Shakas, Dera Adam Khel and other tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Street vendors and shop owners purchase from these places and distribute countrywide with the help of local tribes and police on trucks, private vehicles, public transport, etc.

According to Dr Saleem Azam of the Pakistan Society, over 60 per cent heroin addicts have switched from smoking to injecting the drug to prevent against wastage (the heroin just goes up in smoke). Hardcore heroin users are extremely scornful of those who smoke the drug instead of injecting it.

Dr Azam said that over 70 per cent hashish addicts progress to synthetic drugs. Hashish is known as a ‘soft drug’ and is becoming increasingly popular among people, especially the youth looking for ‘relaxation’ and ‘to experience a feeling of well-being and elation’.

“Hashish has also made inroads into the elite circles as an entertainment drug,” said 40-year-old Asif Ali, a clearing agent by profession who has been hooked to hash since his college days.

He feels that educated young people are getting increasingly hooked to hashish due to frustrations related to unemployment and the general state-of-affairs. “They start with a few puffs to get out of their depression and then acquire a habit so hard to break that they can even commit crimes to generate money for it,” he added.

Most addicts start smoking hashish in their late teens without knowing or worrying about its adverse affects on their life later on. Hashish does not cause abstinence syndrome or physical dependence so that a user can easily quit if they desire to do so. But in reality, instead of quitting, users in most cases progress to heroin or other synthetic drugs.

Farman, a 46-year-old transporter by profession, used dope when he was in college. “There was not much entertainment in those days and sometimes the guys would light up and I smoked dope a few times,” he said. He is now a habitual user despite having thought about quitting the drug several times. —Ismail Khan and Tahir Siddiqui