Afghanistan’s Mounting Drug Addiction Problem
The Taliban rakes in$155 million annually from illegal opium trade operations in Afghanistan – an effort the U.S. has spent some $7.6 billion fighting over the last dozen years. Despite the high-priced efforts of the U.S. and other nations, the Taliban continues to thrive off opium production and distribution. In fact, today Afghanistan supplies an estimated 95% of the world’s opium. But while political powers are at play and international programs against opium production fail, another crisis grows amid the country’s opium operations: addiction and drug abuse are reaching unprecedented levels.
Addiction at All Ages
In April 2014, NPR’s Renee Montagne visited a town in Afghanistan called Herat.In her report, she described Herat as “one of the most graceful cities” in the country. What she found while she was there, however, was a much darker story.
For years, opium has been smuggled through Herat to nearby Iran, and along the way is turned into heroin, before it’s sent off to Europe. The tiny village is teeming with heroin addicts. Montagne describes makeshift shelters as “stone igloos,” and discovers some to have cooking areas – “not for food, but for heroin.”
In her travels, Montagne meets one family whose lives are rife with pain and addiction. Like stories we hear about here at home, many of the addictions began with seemingly innocuous introductions. One man was dug wells and sought pain relief for his aching legs. Another woman lost her husband to cancer and was introduced to heroin to manage her grief. Despite the early relief that came with the drug, both are now completely consumed by the devastating compulsion to use – and they are far from the only ones.
Montagne discovered the widow’s daughter during her visit; she was a dirty, disheveled girl of just 10 years old. She too was addicted.
How Producers Became Users
Dr. Ezmaray Hassin runs clinics in Herat, though there are not nearly enough beds to assist the estimated 70,000 addicts. He explains to NPR how the disease of addiction has ravaged Afghanistan, a country that at one time only produced and sold its opium.
“There’s no doubt that Afghanistan is one of the largest producers of poppy, but historically they have never been drug users,” he says. Thirty years of war, however, has dramatically changed the country’s landscape and dynamics.
“A lot of people travel to the neighboring countries, and they got to know about narcotics and they become addicted,” he adds. “And the one country that’s closest to Herat is Iran.” Iran has some of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction.
Sadly, intervention efforts by the U.S., the United Nations and other groups have been thwarted; by and large heroin and addiction eradication attempts have failed.
Despite these failures, the country is not doomed.
Afghanistan’s newly installed President, Ashraf Ghani, has acknowledged the problem. Though his plan to fix it may not be immediate, he does, as theNew York Times puts it, “have a vision for what needs to be done.” As far as he can see, part of the reason the opium industry is so lucrative is that traditional farming has become too inefficient to be profitable. His position is that a modernization of the farming industry will help alleviate some of the pressures to grow and distribute opium over legal crops.
While President Ghani’s approach may be practical – and undoubtedly the world will root for its success – it’s hard to imagine it will do much to serve the thousands currently suffering from addiction. Any addiction can be devastating, and in time, deadly. It’s a serious disease and policy change, while helpful and certainly a step in the right direction, may not enough for those already afflicted.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to get help. If you or a loved one suffers from an addiction, The Watershed can help. We’re here 24/7 and are ready to talk whenever you are. Call today: 1-800-861-1768.Tags: addiction research, Addiction Statistics