YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—At a news conference on Tuesday, the chief state narcologist of Armenia, Petros Semerjian said that the number of officially registered injection drug users in Armenia has increased by about 50 percent over the past year.
He stated that a total of just over 1,700 such individuals applied to Armenian narcological centers for assistance as of last January. They had 1,100 registered patients in January 2009, he said.
“There are two reasons for the rise: an increased number of drug addicts in Armenia and an increased number of those seeking assistance from the public health system,” Semerjian said at the news conference that “the reason for the increased number of applications is that drug use has been decriminalized in Armenia.”
Semerjian cautioned that the official statistics show only the tip of the iceberg. He said unofficial expert estimates based on research put the real number of heavy drug addicts in the country of 3 million at between 5,000 and 7,000. Narcologists believe that another 25,000 or so Armenians are addicted to lighter drugs such as cannabis, he added.
There are also other indications that drug trafficking and addiction in Armenia, although still low by international standards, has increased since the early 1990s. According to the Armenian police, the number of officially registered drug-related crimes committed in the country nearly doubled to 539 last year.
Earlier this year, Armenian law-enforcement reported their biggest-ever seizure of heroin which they said was smuggled by Iranian drug dealers through neighboring Turkey. A Russian national and an Iranian national were arrested after police found seven kilograms of the Class A drug in their car.
Semerjian said that unemployment and other socioeconomic problems are not the main factors behind increased drug abuse. The cause of the phenomenon is a “criminal culture” taking root in the country, he said.
Semerjian also revealed that as much as 80 percent of people receiving treatment at Armenian narcological clinics and dispensaries go back to using narcotics. “People return to their old place of residence, old friends, the same entourage, and they repeat what they did before,” he explained.