Growing Addiction a Backlash of Afghan Opium Production

by Medindia Content Team on  December 20, 2007 at 4:24 PM General Health News
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Living in Afghanistan, the world's unrivalled producer of heroin, Faqirullah has no problem finding drugs to feed his habit. What concerns him is getting the cash to buy them.
Growing Addiction a Backlash of Afghan Opium Production
Growing Addiction a Backlash of Afghan Opium Production

No matter how difficult, the 27-year-old says he has to find the equivalent of four to six dollars for his daily fix: Faqirullah, who goes by a single name, is one of a growing number of Afghan drug addicts.

"I have been addicted to heroin for five years now," said Faqirullah, sleepy and half-stoned in a bombed-out building in Kabul just a short walk from the national parliament.

Faqirullah says he scrapes together a couple of dollars a day by begging and collecting scrap metal and plastic to sell to recyclers for a pittance.

"I'm doing everything, collecting Pepsi cans, scraps of metal -- don't make me tell you everything but anything you can think of, legal and illegal -- to make money to buy it," said another addict in the same destroyed building.

"I know it will kill me soon but I can't leave it," he added, as he injected his arm with trembling hands

The ruin, which served as a cultural centre for the former Soviet Union during its occupation, has become a home for nearly 200 addicts, many rejected by families and society.

Similar groups of drug users can be found across the vast city, mainly in ruined neighbourhoods that are reminders of a bloody 1992-1996 civil war that destroyed much of Kabul.

The dishevelled and filthy men are outcasts in this strictly Islamic society even though opium has long been used in some mainly northern communities as medicine, including for pain relief, or to keep babies quiet.

Nearly a million Afghans, about four percent of the population, use drugs, according to the last UN survey in 2005.

The figure is no doubt higher now, says counternarcotics ministry spokesman Sayed Amanullah Abdali, flicked upwards by the return every year of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, where many first take drugs.

About 14 percent of the drugs takers use injections, according to the UN survey.

With growing addiction and the threat of HIV/AIDS, Afghanistan's mammoth drugs production -- which has for years supplied Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East -- is increasingly also posing a threat at home.

"There are several factors behind the increase in the number of the addicts: decades of war, lack of education and many others," said Tariq Sliman from the Nijat (Rescue) Centre, a Western-funded rehabilitation clinic in Kabul.

"But on top of all is the easy availability of drugs within the country," he said. "The problem is very serious. It need to be addressed now before it's too late."

Afghanistan is estimated this year to have produced 93 percent of the world's illegal opium -- about 8,200 tons, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Until a few years ago, most of it was exported in its raw form. Today the lion's share, perhaps 90 percent, is turned into heroin inside the country, a UN official said in June.

This means more profits for the drug traffickers, who are said to be linked to Taliban insurgents, and more heroin for the local addicts.

"When you have the cash, it's not difficult to find the powder (heroin)," said Faqirullah. "You can buy it across the street," he added, pointing through a hole in the wall to the other side of the road.

Like many addicts, he first took drugs in a refugee camp -- in his case in neighbouring Iran from where he returned after the Taliban government was ousted in late 2001.

"The more refugees returning, the numbers goes up," he said. "If there's opium cultivation, if there are labs -- the number is going up. The risk is high and needs to be addressed."

About 37 government and non-government drugs treatment centres have been established across the country, said Mohammad Yahya Wiar, head of the Drug Demand Reduction Department at the same ministry.

But the biggest of them, in Kabul, can only treat 20 people a month, he admitted -- "with a million drug addicts, the facilities are not enough."

Faqirullah said he would go for help if he knew where to find it.

"I'm addicted. I'm going to die," he mumbled, his sleepy eyes lowered to the dirty floor. "Please help me out of this."

Source: AFP

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