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Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

Sher Mohammad felt like a dead man - one who could not work, or take care of his family, which included his four daughters and two sons. He is hoping his time at a rehabilitation center in Kabul will help him get his life back.

He is one of three million drug users in Afghanistan, up from 1.6 million in 2012. The rise followed record high poppy crops in the country for the last two years.

The war torn country has long been one of the top opium producers of the world. Ninety percent of the world’s heroin—the most addictive of drugs—comes from here. For years, the South Asian nation blamed demand in rich Western markets for the drug trafficking that funded militant groups, among other things. Now, however, Afghanistan has become one of the leading consumers of its own addictive products.

A U.S. funded study released this month found drug use in Afghanistan to be as high as 11 percent. That means 1 in every 9 Afghans uses illegal drugs now, including women and children.

The study also found opioids, which lead to heroin and opium, use are the most prevalent drugs in rural areas.

Drugs and Militancy

The problem is inextricably linked with security, peace with the Taliban, and widespread poverty. Many farmers complain that they have to plant poppy or they cannot make enough money to feed their families.

Almost 90 percent of the illegal crop grew in 9 of the country’s most insecure provinces last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The Taliban are known not only to encourage farmers to grow the crop, they also sometimes provide funding to poor farmers who do not have money to plant it. Some reports suggest they also protect the crops for a 10 percent tax.

In return, the militant group makes hundreds of millions, from the almost billion-dollar harvest.

Dr. Ahmed Zahir Sultani, head of the Jangalak rehabilitation center in Kabul, blamed multiple factors.

“One thing is clear that poppy cultivation, drug trafficking, easy access to drugs and lack of legal action against sellers are the causes of the increase in drug addiction in Afghanistan,” he said.

What he means by easy access, explains Sher Mohammad, is that it is available in “thousands of places” in the city.

Sher Mohammad is so scared of falling prey to the menace again that he does not even want to walk down a road where someone might be selling drugs.

However, with foreign forces withdrawing and local authorities often ill equipped and under-resourced, many fear the problem may be here to stay.

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