Drug Addiction Continues Unabated Among Afghan Citizens

By Paul Gaita 05/02/14

Even though Afghanistan has long been a leading supplier of the world's heroin, the embattled country hasn't been rife with addiction until the last ten years.

seized heroin afghanistan.jpg
Heroin seized in Afghanistan. Wiki Commons

Afghanistan’s status as the world’s leading producer of opium is common knowledge: the country is attributed as the source of about 90 percent of the world’s supply of the drug, and faces almost no resistance from local government and law officials.

Despite this abundance of drugs, Afghanistan has not been known as a country with drug abuse problems – until the last decade. From 2005 to 2009, the number of Afghan citizens using heroin or other opiates doubled to an estimated 1.6 million, or approximately 5.3 percent of the country’s population. In some cities, like Herat, once considered a paragon of progress in the postwar period, one in five households has at least one drug user. For some, addiction runs through entire families, plaguing parents and children as young as ten years old.

A report from NPR illustrated the downward path to addiction taken by residents in Herat, which has withered from a once-prosperous area to a town being virtually overrun by opiate addicts. Many residents have become hooked on heroin after visiting nearby Iran for work and other reasons, which has more than two million addicts within its own borders. More recently, Iran has experienced a flood of crystal meth, which has also found its way over to Afghanistan. The explosion of opiate addiction has brought additional problems in its wake, including rampant crime and HIV, which has taken hold of approximately 18 percent of IV drug users in Herat province.

Little has been done to assist the victims of this epidemic. The United States spent $6 billion over the course of a decade to bring Afghanistan’s opium industry to a halt, but has made only the smallest of gains. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's own efforts to provide treatment for addictions amounts to less than 28,000 beds in treatment centers nationwide, with most of the money to fund these efforts coming from international sources.

“This is a tsunami for our country,” said Dr. Ahmad Fawad Osamani, director of drug demand reduction for the Ministry of Public Health. “The only thing our drug production has brought us is one million drug users.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.