Middle East: War Driving Iraqis to Drugs

Thanks to the horrors of war, drug abuse is on the rise in Iraq, Iraqi officials and residents told the Associated Press Monday. With the Baghdad morgue reporting that some 6,000 bodies, most of them bearing signs of violence, have shown up this year alone, the urge to get away from it all is understandable.

It certainly was for Tamam Abdul-Kadhim, who told the AP he started using a sedative after witnessing a bloody bombing. Soon he was addicted. "I saw for the first time in my life brains and body parts scattered after a bombing in central Baghdad," he said. "I was not able to think properly or sleep because the images from that massacre were stuck in my mind so that I relied on this medicine."

Abdul-Kadhim sought help at the Ibn Rushid psychiatric hospital. He isn't the only one, said doctors there, and he represents a new trend: the abuse of prescription and illegal drugs instead of alcohol. Under the secular regime of Saddam Hussein, alcohol was available, but it is increasingly less so now. "Illegal narcotics are available everywhere in Iraq and anyone can get products containing amphetamines and codeine from any pharmacy or sidewalk throughout Iraq," said Ibn Rushid's director, Dr. Shaalan Joda Al Abod. "While getting alcohol became harder due to ongoing harassment and threats by extremists against the liquor shops and factories as all bars and nightclubs are closed," he added.

Since the war, the numbers have flipped, said Abod. In Saddam's day, 80% of patients were treated for alcoholism; now more than 70% are being treated for drugs. Ibn Rushid is getting about one new patient a day, Abod said, with 90% of them being young adults.

Iraqi officials are working to develop public awareness campaigns, but that is difficult when going out on the streets can get you killed. "We can't send our teams to all parts of Iraq, particularly the outskirts of urban areas where addiction is high," health ministry spokesman Qassim Allawi told the AP. "Our work is limited to holding one or two conferences a year, publishing posters and sometimes TV advertisements."

Ahmed Abdul-Jabar, 28, told the AP he has a degree in Arabic literature, but he now sells cigarettes on a Baghdad street. Drugs help him cope, he said. "With only these tablets, I can go on."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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