From The New York Times
The abuse of prescription drugs, widely available in Iraq on the black market and through private pharmacies, has significantly increased since 2003, doctors and other health specialists say, nourished by the stresses of the war and the lack of strict government regulation.
Dealers do a brisk business in tranquilizers, painkillers and other drugs, specialists say, and drug abuse is a problem in the prisons and among Iraqis who live in poor neighborhoods or who are unemployed.
But in recent years, Iraqi soldiers and police officers have also turned to drugs to ease the stresses of their jobs. In particular, they are abusing Artane
, a medication that is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and that can have euphoric effects when used in high doses.
“They believe that this Artane allows them to become courageous, to become brave,” said one doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. “They take it so that there is no anxiety, no fear,” he said, “so they can break down doors and enter houses with no shame.”
No clear evidence exists that the misuse of prescription drugs has a significant effect on how soldiers and police officers perform their duties. Nor are any figures available on how widespread drug abuse is in the security forces or whether most of those who use the drugs do so daily.
But Mr. Qasim, 26, estimated that one out of three soldiers in his army unit take Artane or other drugs while on duty. Jalal Ammar, 45, an Iraqi police officer, said “probably 30 percent” of the police officers he worked with used Artane and other medications. Dr. Amir al-Haidari, the manager of drug addiction programs for the Ministry of Health of Iraq, said that alcohol abuse was once a bigger problem than prescription drug abuse, “but after the American invasion of Iraq, alcohol became limited because of the security situation and religious restraints.”
Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji, an official at the Interior Ministry concerned with police affairs, denied that drug abuse was a significant issue among Iraqi police officers.
“We don’t accept any kind of addiction within the security forces or our troops from the police,” he said, adding that any police officer who was found to abuse drugs “will be dismissed from our ministry forever.”
Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta of the Iraqi military said that the soldiers in Baghdad “have very good mental health and high spirits.”
Asked about the abuse of prescription drugs, he said, “Maybe there are some negative points here and there, but you cannot generalize based on such cases.”
On the street, Artane, Valium and other drugs are known by nicknames, including “the capsule,” “the eyebrow” and “the cross.” Mr. Ammar said that when police officers talked among themselves about the drugs, they referred to them as “appetizers” or “takeout.”
Drug use is forbidden in the Iraqi security forces, but Mr. Qasim said that soldiers took drugs discreetly and that “everyone in the army knows about it.”
Unlike some tranquilizers and drugs like cocaine or heroin, Artane does not produce physical addiction. but can produce psychological dependence. But the drug’s label warns that alcohol, barbiturates or narcotics can intensify its effects.
Psychiatrists familiar with Artane abuse say that addicts vary in how frequently they use the drug, sometimes taking it only when they are under stress.
Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine who specializes in drug addiction and advises Iraqi psychiatrists on mental health treatment, said that widespread Artane abuse was almost unheard of elsewhere.