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Drug Addiction on the Rise in Afghanistan


Afghanistan is one of the world’s leading producers of the opium poppy and its derivate options such as heroin. Antonia Costa said that “opium poppy cultivation, processing and transport have become Afghanistan’s top employers, the main source of capital, and the principle base of the economy.” According to John A Glaze, in 2007, 2.9 million Afghanis were involved in opium cultivation in some way or another, this accounted for almost 10% of the population.

Recently drug use in Afghanistan has become a growing and serious issue which the government, aided by foreign organizations has been attempting to tackle. With opium and opiate based drugs so readily available in very potent form, and coming at a cheap local price of average $3.50 to get high, it makes the issue harder to deal with. In 2004 Afghanistan was ranked 173 out of 177 by the United Nations Development Program. Afghanistan was near the bottom of every development index. Afghanistan is a country which has been torn by war over the past 30 years and many live in poverty. Because of this it is not surprising that many of the population have turned to self-medicating their depression with opiates.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2010, there were 900,000 drug users in Afghanistan. The 900,000 account for almost 7% of the adult population, 3% out of the 7% are estimated to be addicted, which was 14 million at the time.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are 150,000 opium users whom are injecting heroin. The injecting in itself is a problem with the sharing of needles being common in areas such as under the Pul-i-Sokhta bridge in Kabul where around 200-300 addicts congregate and live each day using by either injecting or inhaling fumes. The French aid organization Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) goes to Pul-i-Sokhta bridge area six times a week in order to provide medical care to the addicts who live there, supply clean needles and pick up old ones. They pick up an average of 160-170 needles each morning they go.

HIV transmission often comes hand in hand with the sharing of needles. The Ministry of Public Health found that HIV, which can lead to AIDs, was present in 7% of drug users. Dr Fahim Paigham, the old director of the Ministry of Public Health’s AIDs control program, believes that this 7% shows a doubling of that of 3 years ago. Normally throughout the world the primary cause of transmission of AIDs is through un-protected sexual transmission. In Afghanistan however the principle cause of AIDs transmission is through sharing hypodermic needles.

Drug use as a whole, not only with opiates, is becoming an issue with 12% to 41% of police recruits testing positive for some form of drug says a report by the Government Accountability Office. Most of these recruits are regular hashish, compressed unfertilized buds of the cannabis plant, smokers.
Treatment for drug addiction in Afghanistan is hard to find. Several foreign countries have aid programs with detoxification centers around Afghanistan such as the British funded organization called Zendagi Naween (New Life). Zendagi Naween however has one treatment center in Kabul, the drug addict capital of Afghanistan, with only 10 beds available at a time despite a long waiting list of addicts who may keep using it kept waiting too long. The program director, Naseemullah Bawar explains that he believes a patient must stay for 28 days for the drugs to fully leave the addict’s system. He says that “the number of drug users is rising dramatically everyday” and “we need more assistance to build more centers to help these people.”

The Afghanistan government also runs several detoxification centers and is currently building seven more. However there is currently almost no post-detoxification support for the addicts trying to quit having been through the detox programs. Because of this the Ministry of Counternarcotics believes that there is a 92% relapse rate.

Some have proposed a program of opiate substitution therapy. This would mean attempting to substitute heroin user’s heroin addiction for one of methadone. Methadone commonly comes in a syrup form in Afghanistan which is taken orally. This would help dramatically with the rising problem of HIV. A reduction in heroin use means less needles are being used and shared, which in turn would slow the transmission of HIV. The Ministry of Counternarcotics has been blocking attempts for this program despite pleas from the Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry of Counternarcotics went as far as to undermine the sole foreign aid program, Médecins du Monde, who attempt also to try opiate substitution therapy. The ministry twice blocked the attempted import of methadone despite this the program is attempting to continue on but has not been permitted to expand.

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