A new United Nations study says that Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, has become a leading consumer of its own narcotics. It says that about a million Afghans, or 8 percent of the war-shattered country's total population, is suffering from drug addiction.
Deputy Chief of U.N Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Robert Watkins, released the survey at a news conference in Kabul Monday and described its findings as alarming. He said the overall figures are probably higher because cultural restraints in Afghan society did not allow the survey to cover women and children.
Watkins said the growing addiction problem in Afghanistan is having a devastating effect on social development in the country. The survey found there are at least 350,000 heroin and opium addicts in the country, representing a 75 percent increase since 2005.
"Eight percent, mostly young [and] mostly male, are affected by this problem, and as we also learned very much running inside families. Parents who don't have means to provide medicine for their children will use narcotics as a way of softening the pain," Watkins said, "[And] the discomfort that the children are experiencing as a result of whatever their illness may be and, consequently, making new drug addicts."
Citing the survey findings, Watkins said that 50 percent of Afghanistan's opium-using parents give the drug to their own children. It is also worrying, he added, that drug use within the Afghan police force is also very high.
"The report shows that between 12 and 41 percent of Afghan police recruits test positive for some kind of drug addiction. Clearly, we are not just concerned about the safety, security and well being of those individuals, but we are concerned about the safety, security and well being of an entire nation," Watkins said.
He added the survey also showed that drug abuse treatment facilities and services are clearly far from sufficient.
"There is a huge treatment gap with only 40 percent of structured drug treatment centers in 21 provinces, which means that some 700,000 people who are willing and trying to overcome their addiction are unable to get any kind of assistance."
U.N. officials blame the growing drug addiction problem on three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics and limited access to treatment. The U.N. report called for more effective international anti-drug efforts to help the Afghan government and the population to overcome the growing problem.
Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium, from which heroin is derived. More than half of the illicit crop is cultivated in southern provinces of the country, where Taliban insurgents are most active.