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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

Afghan Addicts Suffer in the Shadow of War

While governments and media focus on fighting, Afghanistan's million addicts are mostly forgotten.

Image: 

Medecins Du Monde workers help a heroin
addict who has collapsed with a needle still
stuck in his hand. Photo via

By Bryan Le

09/20/12

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The streets of Kabul, Afghanistan are home to growing numbers of drug addicts, some of whom are seen openly injecting heroin. Afghanistan not only produces 90% of the world's opium, but is a major user. Its addiction rate of 8%—that's about one million people—is twice the global average. Of course, with so much opium produced locally, high-purity heroin is cheaply available. One 28-year-old heroin addict filmed by CNN [below] injects half a gram a day at a cost of about $4 USD. “Using drugs made me leave my home, my family,” he says. “If I didn't use drugs I would have a family, a good life.” Two years ago, the Afghan government moved to help by setting up a methadone program—as recommended by the UN—but shut it down just two months later amid doubts over whether it was the best approach. Now methadone treatment in Kabul is limited to just one clinic run by Medecins Du Monde, which can only legally serve 71 patients, so most addicts seeking recovery have to look elsewhere. Masoma, a 25-year-old woman whose whole family—her mother, brother and sister—began using to cope with a number of bereavements, is turning to counseling. Her two young children also became addicted, through secondhand smoke. But despite the problems, Afghanistan’s farmers continue growing opium, which is far more profitable than alternative crops. 

One Western aid worker who spent several months in Kabul tells The Fix, "We would regularly drive through one district that was known as the drug addicts' hang-out. It was next to a dried-up canal in the center of town." He recalls how authorities ignored the situation: "There was an Afghan military checkpoint at the top of the road, but they were obviously more worried about suicide bombers than drug addicts.” Though terrorism concerns generally overshadow addiction concerns, the two issues are linked—the Taliban reportedly relies on opium profits. But addicted Afghans have non-political reasons for trying to quit: “I feel shame and say to myself 'Why did I do this?'” says Masoma. "Why didn't I think of my children, my future?”

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