The number of drug users in Egypt has rapidly increased since the revolution, says the head of a drug addiction organization.
Egypt’s economic and social problems have hit the Nile Delta town of Faqous hard and some are turning to drugs in order to cope.
A drug user from the town, who only agreed to be filmed if his identity was concealed, said that drugs were a way out from the hopelessness that many people feel in Egypt today.
“Why are we are smoking? To overcome the cruelty of life, daily hard work, thinking about food, children, paying our rent, and all of these responsibilities. But the main problem is that by trying to escape our problems, we fall into addiction, this is the problem,” he said, as he sifted through a supply of bango, a type of marijuana.
Amr Othman, the director of the National Fund for Drug Control and Addiction Treatment, said that there had been a dramatic rise in drug use since the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
Othman said that the political turmoil and security vacuum that followed the uprising has contributed to this rise, with the centre seeing around 40,000 patients in the last year, compared with a previous yearly average of 12-13,000.
“Of course, the issue of a security vacuum greatly impacts the drug problem. It’s true that the General Directorate for Drug Control is making a huge effort, but we are in a world that is plagued with instability on a regional level. We have a lot of disturbance at our eastern and western borders, which directly affects the process of the drug trade. This of course reflects on the amount we confiscate. We are talking about four hundred million pills in 2012, according to the General Directorate for Drug Control, and those are only Tramadol pills.This also reflects in the amount of patients we receive. We received an average of twelve to thirteen thousand patients annually, whilst last year, we received forty thousand patients, which indicates that there is a dramatic increase after the revolution,” he said.
Othman added that his organization was working with the Egyptian government to try to combat the problem and was distributing guides on addiction across schools in the country.
“We, as the Fund for Drug Control and Addiction Treatment, have put in place a plan to help Egypt face the drug problem, with the co-operation of fourteen specialized ministries. The Prime Minister announced this plan last February and it consists of very important steps. The plan consists of support with life skills, where we release a guide for young people to be able to combat drug problems. This guide focuses on life skills, enhancing their internal resilience skills, and giving young people a role to raise awareness among those who close to them. We are also striving to distribute this guide on an educational level, and we already did that last term where we gave this guide to five hundred schools across Egypt,” Othman said.
The drug addiction centre said that 30 percent of drug addicts are addicted to the prescription painkiller Tramadol, which they say people can buy for as little as one or two Egyptian pounds a pill.
Another drug user in Faqous said that some drugs were far too readily available and should be banned.
“Nobody who smokes marijuana is happy, or hashish, and are they happy? No, of course, we all wish that we can stop, and that these things don't happen again, and that they’re banned in the market. We even want cigarettes to be banned,” the drug user, who did not want to be identified, said.
The Egyptian government announced a new initiative in March to co-ordinate efforts to combat addiction amongst several government agencies, including a telephone hotline for addicts and a boost in rehabilitation programs.