An Iraqi looks at posters
warning of the usage of drugs at Ibn Rushed hospital in war-torn Baghdad,
November 2005. Lot of Iraqis are increasingly using tranquilizer pills
that are easy to buy from pharmacies as way to 'escape from reality.'(AFP/File/Sabah
On Saddun Street in central Baghdad, there is a pharmacist who doesn't like to
sell his products.
"Dozens of people come every day to buy tranquilizer pills, but we know
now which ones are addicted and we refuse to sell to them," he said, adding
that many of the addicts are criminals and thieves.
The pharmacy is located next to the Battaween neighborhood, notorious for its
drug and alcohol problem.
"One of them threatened me with a gun and stole my car," said a neighbor
of the pharmacist.
But Iraq's rising drug problem is not limited to select neighborhoods, as young
people are increasingly seeking solace in prescription drugs to escape a world
of violence, unemployment and despair.
"It is a dangerous plague that has to be confronted immediately, before
it becomes uncontrollable," said Dr. Adnan Fawzi, assistant to the director
of the Ministry of Health's national program to combat drug addiction.
Heroin and cocaine use, according to Fawzi, is actually fairly rare, due to
the high prices of these drugs. Instead, people are using pills that are "available
for nothing in pharmacies," he said.
Dr. Ali Rashid of the Ibn Rushd hospital, who specializes in psychiatry and
drug addiction, explains that these pills, like illegal drugs, marginalize their
users in a conservative society.
For Ali, 18, his pills allow him to forget his problems. "I float along
in another world," he said.
"The unbearable conditions of daily life, whether in society or in my
family, pushed me to find an escape," he added.
Families and educational institutions have a major portion of the responsibility
to prevent this problem, maintains social worker Nagham Wannass.
In the troubled neighborhood of Battaween, this problem affects "more
than 1,000 homeless, most of them children" said an official in the Ministry
of Interior, who declined to be identified.
In addition to pharmaceuticals, they often abuse alcohol and sniff glue, he
The health ministry, whose hospitals are already swamped with victims of the
daily violence, is trying to grapple with this problem and has sent large numbers
of doctors and specialists abroad to receive training.
In November, the ministry organized a conference entitled "For an Iraq
free of drugs" and participants called on authorities to tighten control
of the borders, particular with Iran, to halt the flow of drugs.
A conference of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in Vienna
back in May noted how smugglers are taking advantage of the internal chaos in
Iraq to route Afghani-produced heroin through Iraq and into Europe.
Right now, however, the drugs are getting into people's hands through the legal
means of pharmacies. The national anti-drug commission, headed by Minister of
Health Abdel Mutalib Mohammed Ali, has called for new rules regulating the sale
of prescription drugs.
The commission, which includes representatives of the education, labor and
interior ministries, has also launched an awareness campaign.
All over Baghdad, walls are plastered with anti-drug posters, showing a man
in rags slumped against a wall while lying at his feet, another shoots up with