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July 17, 2006 - Associated Press (Int’l)

Devastated, Hopeless Iraqis Turn To Drugs To Escape Violence, Poverty

By Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press

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BAGHDAD -- Tamam Abdul-Kadhim started taking a sedative about two years ago to calm his nerves after he witnessed a bombing in central Baghdad. Soon he was addicted.

The 35-year-old is one of a growing number of Iraqis turning to drugs to help them cope with the daily violence and other problems that have become part of their lives.

“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.”

He turned to the Ibn Rushid psychiatric hospital to help him overcome his problems, going twice a week for treatment consultations.

Health officials say that in a shift from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime, the abuse of prescription and illegal drugs has become more widespread than alcoholism.

“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.

In prewar Iraq, alcoholism was the main problem facing 80 per cent of patients being treated for addiction at the hospital, while 20 per cent suffered from drug abuse, Abod said.

But over the past three years, drug abuse accounts for 70 per cent of the cases, while alcoholism decreased to 30 per cent, he said.

Abod, whose hospital is the only medical facility in the country that treats drug addicts who also have exhibited psychological problems, said his hospital receives about 30 cases of drug abuse monthly and 90 per cent of the patients are from 18 to 25 years old.

Most live in Baghdad’s poor suburbs and psychological analyses in the centre find violence and poverty to be the main causes of addiction.

In an attempt to combat the phenomenon, awareness campaigns are being developed by the health ministry’s drug-prevention department as the United Nations has dedicated $3.2 million to combat drug abuse in Iraq.

But officials blamed the general lack of security in the country for their inability to reach more abusers as they often encounter difficulties reaching more remote areas.

“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 said.

“Our work is limited to holding one or two conferences a year, publishing posters and sometimes TV advertisements.” Ahmed Abdul- Jabar Mizaal, a 28-year-old Iraqi man with a degree in Arabic literature, turned to drugs as a way to escape reality.

“With only these tablets I can go on,” he said, sitting cross-legged next to the wooden stall where he sells cigarettes on a Baghdad street.

Abusers have invented their own lingo for the drugs, such as “the bloody” for Valium, “the cross” for the epilepsy drug Tegretol, and “the eyebrow” for methadone, the opiate that’s medically prescribed for treating heroin addiction but also can be abused.

Eman Awadh, a 38-year-old math teacher at an elementary school who suffered from a year of addiction to the anti-anxiety drug Artane after she escaped a kidnapping attempt, just finished a five-month treatment programme at the hospital and was ready to start her life again.

“I miss my lessons and my students,” Awadh said, bursting into tears as she was supported by her mother and sister who picked her up from the hospital. “Sometimes I thought about committing suicide to get rid of my pain.”

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