By Anna Saghabalian
The Armenian police have reported an almost 80 percent increase in the number of drug-related crimes committed last year, giving weight to expert estimates that drug abuse, traditionally limited in Armenia, is on the rise.
According to the latest official figures, 55 percent of 737 such crimes registered by the police in 2005 had to with illegal sales and trafficking of various narcotics, including “soft” drugs such as marijuana. Even possessing them is a serious crime under Armenian law.
The national Police Service has not yet provided more detailed drug statistics, making it difficult for experts to gauge the scale of the problem. They say that although drug addiction is unlikely to have grown considerably over the past year, it is clearly becoming more of a problem for the country.
“The growth in drug abuse in Armenia is obvious,” Artur Potosian, coordinator of an anti-drug project implemented by the United Nations Development Program, told RFE/RL without giving any estimates.
“It is true that drug addiction is much less widespread in Armenia than in the CIS and even around the world,” said Petros Semerjian, director of the National Narcology Dispensary. “Still, such a problem does exist here.”
Semerjian said the dispensary treated about one hundred people last year and currently has some 60 drug addicts on its watch list. That their real number is much higher is suggested by a survey conducted among 3,800 randomly chosen Armenians and financed by the European Union and the United Nations Development Program last year. About 8 percent of them said they know of individuals regularly using drugs.
“Our monitoring shows that hashish and marijuana are the main drugs in circulation,” said Semerjian. “But we largely deal with intravenous drug addicts.”
The use of intravenous drugs remains rare by Western and CIS standards. Still, health authorities say it is increasingly contributing to the spread of AIDS in Armenia.
“Until 1999 the disease was mainly transmitted through heterosexual intercourse,” said Arshak Papoyan, head of the Armenian Health Ministry’s National Center for AIDS Prevention. “But since then the disease is being increasingly transmitted as a result of drug injections.”