From Producer to Consumer: the growing cost of drug addiction in Afghanisatan

In the midst of the ravages of war, another problem is eating away at society in Afghanistan, drug addiction. Whereas once it was mostly a producer of drugs, now there is a growing and disturbing trend of consumers of drugs. Afghanistan produces 90% of all opiate drugs in the world, but until recently was not a major consumer. Now, out of a population of 35 million, more than a million are addicted to drugs – proportionately the highest figure in the world.

Addicts come from every sphere of life, including educated people. Tariq Sulaiman, from Najat, a local addiction charity, regularly moves among the addicts of Kabul to try to persuade them to get treatment. “We are already losing our children to suicide attacks, rocket and bomb attacks,” he says. “But now addiction is another sort of terrorism which is killing our countrymen.”

The reasons why so many Afghans are turning to drugs are complex. It’s clear that decades of violence have played a part. Many of those who fled during the violence of the last 30 years took refuge in Iran and Pakistan, where addiction rates have long been high. They’re now returning and bringing their drug problems with them, officials say. Unemployment – which currently stands at nearly 40% – is also taking its toll. Another factor is the increasing availability of heroin, which over the last decade has begun to be refined from raw opium in Afghanistan itself. To buy heroin in Kabul is “as easy as buying yourself something to eat”, addicts say. One gram costs about $6 (£3.91), and it’s available in every corner of the city.

Women and children account for 40% of the country’s drug addicts.

All told, the health ministry runs 95 addiction treatment centres around the country, with enough bed space for 2,305 people. Its entire budget for treating the country’s one million drug addicts is just $2.2m (£1.4m) per annum – a little over $2 per addict, per year.

In praying for Afghanisation, pray for these other victims of the brokenness and devastation of this people.

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