Crystal Meth Threatens Afghanistan

By McCarton Ackerman 05/29/13

Some fear a new addiction crisis could cripple the drug and war-ravaged nation.

Heroin and crystal meth users smoke in the
ruins of an old city.
Photo via

Afghanistan, the world's leading opium supplier and home to an estimated one million heroin addicts, is now facing a new drug threat: crystal meth. The country has seen a surge in usage of the synthetic drug, known locally as "glass," raising fears that a new addiction crisis could "cripple" the already drug and war-ravaged nation. The number of meth samples taken from seizures tripled to 48 in 2012, compared with the year before, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports. Peter Bottomley, the UNODC's consultant in Kabul, says the seizures have turned up small quantities of about half a kilogram each, which are being produced in high-tech labs across the border in Iran. Most foreign troops are set to leave the country by the end of next year, and treatment options for crystal meth addiction border on non-existent, leading many to fear the worst. "If glass users are added to our opium addicts, it'll be a disaster," says Ahmad Khalid Mowahid, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force that convicts serious drug offenders. "Meth addicts jump off roofs and punch fists in walls. Imagine such abnormal behavior here." The street price of Afghan crystal meth is relatively low at $20—but that's five times the price of heroin in a country that remains one of the poorest in the world. Prison terms for selling the drug are also comparatively letter: just one year behind bars for a kilogram, compared to three years for the equivalent amount of opium or 10 years for heroin. The UN estimates that nearly one million people worldwide have died from Afghan heroin, and opium production is expected to reach a record high this year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.