A top Afghan health ministry official supports moving injection drug users off heroin and onto methadone as a way to combat HIV/AIDS. "By stopping drug use, you stop HIV transmission in our community," said Sayed Habib, the health ministry's top drugs official.
However, treatment programs are the target of organized criminals who earn money from the illegal drug trade, advocates and ministry officials said.
In 2010, the international charity Doctors of the World launched a pilot methadone program for 200 patients, but the counter-narcotics ministry blocked it six months later. Today, the charity has 71 patients but faces a daily struggle getting permission to import methadone.
"A lot of research has been done in Afghanistan. There are no reasons why they should refuse, apart from the linkage between the drug mafia and the ministry for counter-narcotics," said Habib, noting the illegal drug trade is worth $3.5 million a day just in Kabul. Afghanistan grows about 90 percent of the world's opium, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and opium harvests soared by 61 percent last year.
"If we distribute methadone for free, there won't be any need for heroin and the market in Afghanistan will collapse," Habib said. Organized criminals "are ready to do anything" to prevent that, including buying off narcotics officials, Habib added.
"There is no evidence" for such a claim, said Abdul Qayyum Samer, a spokesperson for the counter-narcotics ministry.
Back to other news for February 2012
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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