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The BBC's Catherine Davis
"Heroin can cost the same as a bottle of beer"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Tajikistan's battle with addiction

Heroin comes from the poppy-fields of Afghanistan
By Central Asia correspondent Catherine Davis

Still reeling after years of civil war, the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan is now facing a new and growing problem - drug addiction.

Tajikistan is one of the Central Asian states in the front line against drug traffickers operating from Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of opium.

They offer the first few doses free of charge. Then they come back with more, and you have to pay

Eight-year old
"You only have to ask a couple of your friends and they know where you can go" says one young Tajik in a matter-of-fact tone.

"It's very popular and widespread in Dushanbe. In each street you can buy any kind of drug here."

According to the government Drug Control Agency, Tajikistan has in the last three years seen a sharp increase in drug addiction. It estimates that around two-thirds of the country's drug addicts are under 30 years old.

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan share a remote 1,500km border with Afghanistan
Drug pushers are known to target universities and schools. In a playground, with the bell ringing for the end of lunch-break, one eight-year old pupil explained: "They come and offer the first few doses free of charge. Then they come back with more, and you have to pay".

At a clinic for drug addiction in the capital Dushanbe a doctor confirmed that 70% of her patients were young people.

"I'm 21" whispered one of them - a pale, thin figure slumped on a bed.

"I've been using heroin for six months. Maybe because I have nothing to do - that's why I take drugs. So do my friends. They don't work either."

Boredom and curiosity are among the reasons young Tajiks turn to drugs, say doctors.

Trafficking route

They point out that the country is still recovering from five years of civil war; unemployment is high and there aren't the resources to spend on leisure activities. Groups of young men spend the day loitering on the city's streets.

A kilo of good quality heroin costs three times less than it did four years ago

Rustam Nazarov, head of Tajik Drug Control Agency
But doctors, officials and young Tajiks all agree that the main reason for the rising level of addiction is the easy availability of drugs.

Tajikistan is a recognised trafficking route for narcotics from Afghanistan to Russia and onto Europe.

"A kilo of good quality heroin costs around $2,000", said Rustam Nazarov, the head of the Drug Control Agency.

"That's three times less than the same amount cost about four years ago".

Mr Nazarov says the reason heroin started to stream into Tajikistan is because of weaker post-Soviet borders, the country's civil war and the situation in Afghanistan. He says there has been a trend towards using harder drugs in recent years.

Government and international agencies are co-ordinating efforts to try to halt the rising number of young addicts.

Families and schools have been asked to explain the dangers of drug addiction. Warnings have been broadcast on television.

The OSCE says what's important is that there is a growing awareness of the size and urgency of the problem.

But it warns that Tajikistan cannot deal with it alone - there is a need for international assistance.

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