Opium Addiction Continues to Rise in Afghanistan as U.S. Withdraws Troops

By May Wilkerson 02/13/15

Entire families, including young children, are being ravaged by opium addiction.

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Opium addiction is widespread and rising in Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of opium poppies, the raw ingredient of heroin, and the problem is only growing worse as American troops prepare to withdraw from the war-ravaged country, USA Today reports.

The U.S. government has funneled $7 billion into attempts to curb poppy growing in the region, paying poppy farmers to switch to legal crops, like wheat. But poppy farming is too lucrative for most farmers in the impoverished country to give it up.

The Pentagon announced last year that the Taliban and other insurgent groups are increasingly relying on the drug trade to fuel their efforts. This, combined with the U.S. withdrawing its support of the country’s anti-narcotics efforts, is contributing to a rapid rise in the opium market.

Afghan opium cultivation reached record levels in 2014, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's most recent numbers. The country is now churning out an estimated 380 tons of heroin and morphine annually, 85% of the world’s supply, with the total exports estimated at about $4 billion.

Up to 5% of the population is dependent on opium or other drugs, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reports. That’s about 1.6 million addicts, or a 60% rise since 2009.

Opium is deeply ingrained in Afghan culture. Many see it as medicinal, and in much of the country it’s the only medicine available. Many Afghans also rely on the drug to pacify their children while they work long hours. And many children are addicted to the drug from birth, due to their mothers’ use during pregnancy.

"We know this is not good for our children but both of us are addicts, and because of us, our children are addicts now, too," an Afghan woman named Hafiza told USA Today. "If we don't give them opium, they start crying and complaining of body aches."

The central government in Kabul has made efforts to educate people on the dangers of the drug, operating 95 addiction treatments and hospitals throughout the country. But it’s not enough to meet the overwhelming need.

"People in Afghanistan have no knowledge about the dangers of drug addiction,” said Mohammed Dauod, a coordinator for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. “We are trying our best to provide facilities to drug addicts for their treatment."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.