BAGHDAD — As the use of narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs is growing among Iraqi youths, the Wasit Crime Combating Directorate in east-central Iraq has launched a massive campaign against those who deal in hallucinogenic drugs, as well as those who are addicted.
In Baghdad's Mansour district, sometimes young women can be seen smoking hallucinogenic drugs in coffee shops. In the southern city of Basra, drug abuse is common among young boys, students and the unemployed, who can easily obtain substances from peddlers. In the first half of this year, Basra recorded 31 deaths from drug overdoses.
Pharmacist Hussein Abu Laban told Al-Monitor that a range of medicine is being abused: pills for the treatment of everything from schizophrenia and severe depression to the tremors of Parkinson's disease and the pain and inflammation of arthritis. He also mentioned tranquilizers and hallucinogens such as LSD.
"Young addicts resort to them for excitement, just like 'regular' drugs," such as pot, cocaine or heroin, Abu Laban said.
Then there are drugs like Tramadol, a potent, highly addictive narcotic that is used to treat acute pain and also works as a nervous system tranquilizer. "Abusers quickly get used to it and increase doses every day until they are completely unable to quit,” he noted.
A Baghdad pharmacist told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Trafficking of narcotics is quite a lucrative business for drugstores and pharmacy owners. Due to corruption, narcotics find their way to the streets where they can be sold secretly to customers through middlemen.” There are accusations of government officials being involved and helping to cover up trafficking.
In January, the parliamentary Health and Environment Committee revealed information concerning the widespread use of expired medications, unlicensed drugs and hallucinogens after the authorities in Baghdad seized a vehicle carrying 70 cartons of unauthorized medications.
Another source of narcotics is local manufacturing, which is considered a very dangerous indicator of spreading addiction. According to information revealed by judges late last year, traffickers in crystal methamphetamine were trying to expand into Iraq by establishing local labs to produce the substance.
While smuggling through the porous borders with Iran has been a main source of narcotics, reports state Iraq is no longer just a passageway for narcotics but rather a point of distribution to all neighboring countries, as most drug traffickers in East Asia now direct their goods toward the Iraqi market.
Maged Murhag al-Sultani, an expert in sociology and psychology at the University of Wasit, told Al-Monitor, “Field research conducted by the university’s department of sociology indicates that many teenagers resort to narcotics to evade romantic, family or psychological problems.”
Abdul Aziz al-Zalimi, a member of the parliamentary Labor and Social Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor, “No official statistics on the number of addicts exist. However, the number has significantly increased in the last five years.” Zalimi cited rising unemployment and poverty as factors that encourage addiction.
“Iraq seeks a national strategy to counter the impact of drugs on society. The first step was the drug law that was issued in 2016, as it imposes stringent sanctions on drug trafficking, possession and abuse,” Zalimi added. Under the Drugs and Mental Stimulants law, authorities can confiscate property, and the law even provides for the death penalty or life sentences for some offenses.
However, such punitive measures will not eliminate the spread of drugs in general and hallucinogens in particular, according to Qassem Hussein Saleh, the head of the Iraqi Psychological Association. “It is necessary to focus on rescuing the youth from the problems they suffer, as they make them feel that life is meaningless. Therefore, [youth] … search for tools that may isolate them from reality. Narcotics help them find the excitement and isolation they need. However, they face reality as soon as the effect is over,” Saleh told Al-Monitor.
That's why, Zalimi said, “the [national] strategy includes establishing advanced health centers to treat addiction through psychological treatment and social research, as well as control and scrutiny over border crossings." He also said social, sports and entertainment centers could help the young and unemployed become "integrated into useful and positive activities."