NAIROBI (Reuters) – Heroin use is increasing in Kenya’s coastal communities as international traffickers use them as a transit point for drugs bound from Afghanistan to the West, creating health and social problems, a European Union-funded report said on Tuesday.

The port cities of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu have been particularly hard hit in recent years, it said.

Health risks include contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, according to a senior analyst on the research team, Simone Haysom.

Drug users were also becoming marginalized in their communities. In Mombasa, some people accused of drug use had been stoned, burned or murdered in mob attacks, he said.

The growing drug problem was also denting the image of a region better known as a tourist destination for its sun and beaches.

The research was based on hundreds of interviews conducted in East and Southern Africa but it did not include figures showing the scale of the increase in drug use.

Researcher Ciara Aucoin said the region’s high youth unemployment made it particularly susceptible to drug abuse and its attendant crime.

“That combination of poverty, youth bulge, and unemployment leads to this powderkeg…in terms of drugs and violence,” Aucoin said.

(Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Angus MacSwan)