Drug Addiction in Egypt

Cairo Egypt

The ancient culture of Egypt includes an equally ancient history of drug and alcohol abuse. Opium and hashish have been used in Egypt for centuries, and recent tests have found cocaine in mummified remains—a discovery that has confounded historians who considered that the coca plant was purely a South American phenomenon until recent times.

It was in the 1980s that use of narcotics began to escalate to serious levels. Currently, Egypt is one of Africa’s top cultivators of cannabis and opium poppies. The number of hectares discovered that are dedicated to growing addictive substances has been increasing steadily over the last decade. The amount of “bango”—the local name for marijuana—seizures have also been increasing from 60,000 kg per year up to 80,000 kg and above. In addition to cultivation, opium and heroin are transported in from Southwest and Southeast Asia.

The most vulnerable points for drug trafficking activities are those dealing with the transportation of people and cargoes—the Cairo airport and ports along the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Drugs are smuggled between Gaza and Egypt and come across the Atlantic Ocean to Western Africa and from there north into Egypt for distribution into Europe. Drug trafficking in Egypt is a core activity of transnational organized crime networks.

One report stated that the lack of capacity at Cairo’s main airport probably meant that this facility is used as a major hub for the transport of drugs to Europe.

Cannabis and Opiates Sending Most People to Treatment in Egypt

It is estimated that addicts in Egypt are spending $2.9 billion on drugs each year. Estimates on how many people are addicted to opiates, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants or heroin vary greatly, but range between 600,000 and 800,000, according to a 2007 study.

Half the 129,850 people who entered drug rehabs in 2007 were addicted to cannabis, while another 43 percent were dependent on opiates of various types. Another seven percent were addicts of amphetamine-type stimulants that would include ecstasy and methamphetamine.

The slums of Cairo and Giza are hotbeds of addiction. These slums are among the largest in the world and are home to hundreds of thousands of street children. Some authorities estimate that the number of these children may reach one million. Population density reaches 60,000 people per square mile, far denser than Calcutta or Djakarta. Some residents make a living collecting garbage from the winding Cairo streets that are too narrow for motor vehicles. The garbage is then sorted and salvageable materials are then sold. Entire decrepit and abandoned neighborhoods are stacked with non-salvageable refuse. Street children living in these areas find oblivion through the use of glue-sniffing, cannabis or prescription drug abuse.

For those with more income, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy, and methamphetamine are regularly abused. More than 12 percent of Egyptian students are dependent on drugs and another nine percent to bango and three percent to hashish.

In 2005, the total number of heroin addicts in Egypt was estimated to run somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. A 2007 report stated that 8.5 percent of Egyptians—or six million people—are addicted to drugs. The majority of them are between 15 and 25 years of age. Rising rates of unemployment are said to contribute to increases in addiction. For example, in one area, 20,000 young men are employed compared with another 30,000 that are out of work.

Egypt Drug Treatment Facilities Unevenly Distributed

Substance abuse treatment falls within the province of psychiatrists in Egypt, but only a small handful are trained to specialize in addiction recovery. So most cases are treated by general psychiatrists without special education or experience. The number of inpatient beds assigned to addiction treatment is only about 600, about half administered by the government and the other half by non-governmental agencies or the private sector.

As the drug rehabilitation facilities are scattered throughout Egypt, millions of Egypt’s 68,000,000 people are not able to avail themselves of help at these treatment centers. Some might be able to enroll in opiate-substitution drug programs, where they could receive doses of methadone or Suboxone to alleviate cravings and hold off withdrawal pains.

Narconon Egypt outside of Cairo

Some lucky Egyptians will find drug recovery at the Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation center outside of downtown Cairo. There, in a clean environment away from smog, danger or distraction, addicts go through nutritionally based withdrawal process that uses gentle physical assists and reorientation exercises to calm muscle spasms, aches, pains, sickness and upset. Most of those using the Narconon method of withdrawal find it tolerable or even comfortable, in dramatic comparison to what a “cold turkey” withdrawal would be like.

The Narconon facility is a beautiful place in which to recover from something as desperate as addiction to alcohol, medications, cocaine or other drugs. There is a swimming pool and a soccer field that can be used by those recovering from substance abuse. This Narconon center is just one of over 30 Narconon addiction treatment centers around the world.

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