There are around six million drug users in Bangladesh who spend over Tk700m every day on illegal narcotics, studies and intelligence reports have revealed.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) survey, most users are young, ranging in age from 18 to 30 years.
Meanwhile, a separate study conducted by the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition (JHPN) of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) showed that in the capital, 79.4% of the users were male and 20.6% female.
The JHPN study found that 64.8% of the drug users in the country were unmarried, while 56.1% were either students or unemployed.
95.4% users were smokers; 85.7% got into drugs under the influence of friends; 65.8% were addicted to various codeine-containing cough syrups.
More than 100,000 people were directly involved with illegal drug trade and supplying the drugs.
The study revealed peddlers prefer women and children for carrying and selling drugs because it is easier for them to evade law enforcers. Children are particularly preferred because the laws of the country are lenient for them and they can be engaged for small payments.
“It’s not possible to find out the exact number of drug users in the country. But on the basis of different data and statistics, we estimate that the number of addicts in Bangladesh is more than six million,” a high-ranked official of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said the government did not have any specific data on the number of drug addicts or users in the country.
Non-government organization, Family Hall International had conducted a survey a few years back in which it said the number of drug users in the country was more than 4.6m.
Requesting anonymity, the DNC official said if the survey was correct, then there must be around 6m users in the country right now.
The JHPN study also showed on an average $1.9 - $3.1 was spent on drugs every day which amounted to $707-$1,135, (roughly amounting between Tk56,560 to Tk 90,800) annually. On that count, the average daily expenditure on drugs was Tk130.
According to DNC intelligence sources, heroin is the deadliest of drugs in Bangladesh. In recent times, Yaba has gained in popularity and has become a “fashionable” drug. Cough syrup Phensidyl has remained the most popular among the masses because of its low price and easy availability.
Sources from the DNC intelligence wing also informed that around
10,000 cases were filed and 9,000 people are arrested every year in connection with drug related violence and crime.
According to the Narcotics Control Act 1990, one of the main goals of the DNC was to ensure treatment and rehabilitation of the drug addicts in the country.
The department, however, has only four rehabilitation centres in the country with an aggregate capacity of 533 people at one time.
Besides, the department has been facing an acute shortage of manpower with only one official for every 250,000 people and many posts remaining vacant, DNC officials said.
Although there is an office of DNC in every district, most of them lack infrastructure like vehicles and equipment, they said.
Mohammad Iqbal, director general (DG) of DNC, told the Dhaka Tribune that his department had three strategies for combating drug abuse – controlling the supply of drugs, curbing the number of addicts and checking the harmful effects of drug abuse.
“Our enforcement branch is working to reduce the supply of drugs while the drug rehabilitation centres are working to reduce their deleterious effects,” Iqbal said.
“We are also jointly working with our partner NGOs, schools and colleges to cut down on the demand for drugs.”