Monday, 13 May 2013

Addiction Invades Afghanistan

While Afghanistan produces 90% of all the opiate derived drugs world-wide, they have never had a major addiction problem until now.

There are now more than one million drug addicts out of a total population of 35 million. This makes Afghanistan the country with the most drug addicts per capita. These addicts are not simply people living on the fringes of society either. There are doctors, engineers, and other professionals.

The cause of this rise in addiction rates is complex. Many of the countries former addicts fled to escape the violence that has been rife for the last 30 years. These addicts took shelter in Pakistan and Iran where there is a high rate of addiction and a ready supply of drugs.  Now that Afghanistan is in a period of relative peace, the addicts are returning and bringing both their drug habit and their narcotics connections with them.

Another factor driving the high rate of addiction is the 40% unemployment rate in Afghanistan. In an interview with the BBC, one addict said that if he had a job, he would never be buying drugs.
Besides the high rate of unemployment and the returning addicts, A major reason for the skyrocketing rate of addiction in Afghanistan is refinement. Historically, the poppies that are used to make heroin were grown in Afghanistan and then the raw plants were transported to other countries to be refined. Now many more Afghans are simply refining the drug themselves which has made a cheap and abundant supply readily available. That means people who may never have seen drugs like heroin have easy access and no education as to the drugs consequences.

"Traditionally, what we tend to argue is that the demand causes the supply," says Jean-Luc Lemahieu, regional representative of the UN drugs agency UNODC, in a BBC interview. “What we have forgotten, though, is that… the sheer appearance of that product on the market causes a local demand."

This is made worse by the fact that opiates like heroin have been used as a traditional medicine in Afghanistan for centuries. People see it as a cure all and it is often taken as a cure all for everything from headaches, coughs and pain. This means there are many families where both parents and children are addicted and in need of help.

Currently women and children make up around 40% of the countries addicts and there are few if any treatment options available. The entire country has 95 addiction treatment centres with enough beds to hold 2,305 people. These are run on a budget of $2.2million per year. That means there is about $2 to spend on each addict per year.

Many of these treatment centres only offer a detox which consists of going cold turkey for 72 hours. This will leave many addicts without the proper treatment or help they need to reclaim their lives and start meaningful recovery.