Afghanistan: Drug addiction - a growing burden
KABUL, 21 April 2010 (IRIN) - Afghanistan’s
production of opiates and hashish is increasingly
hurting its own people as well as damaging the health
of millions across the world, officials and experts
Over the past five years the number of drug users
has increased from 920,000 to over 1.5 million, the
spokesman of the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN),
Zalmai Afzali, told IRIN.
No other country in the world produces as much
heroin, opium and hashish as Afghanistan, according to
the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The steady rise in the number of domestic drug
users belies the argument by some Afghans that drug
consumption is a non-Afghan problem and that the drugs
trade brings money to the country.
“There is the Coca-Cola effect between production
of drugs and consumption and addiction; supply
inevitably does create demand,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu,
UNODC’s country representative.
“The distinction between producing and consuming
countries has blurred. Traditionally, consuming
countries have become producers of synthetic drugs. In
turn, producing countries have become consumers. What
remains is a shared international responsibility. No
country should be left alone,” he said.
“There is a risk Afghanistan could become the
world’s top drug-using nation - albeit proportionate
to its population - if the current addiction trend
continues and we fail to stop it,” said MCN’s Afzali.
Addiction, not production, is Afghanistan’s biggest
problem, experts say.
“If each addict spends US$1 a day on his/her
addiction it is waste of $45 million a month,” Tariq
Suliman, director of a drug users’ rehabilitation
centre called Nejat, told IRIN.
He said addicts seeking treatment at his centre
come from all walks of life but most are young men who
could otherwise be of use to their family and country.
Officials at the MCN said drug addiction was having
a devastating impact: “Drug addiction adds to
insecurity, social crimes and communicable diseases
and undermines Afghanistan’s development efforts,”
said Afzali, adding that providing free treatment and
rehabilitation services for the addicts was an
unnecessary financial burden.
Transmission of communicable viruses - particularly
HIV - among injecting drug users is a serious health
risk. Awareness about sexual diseases is very low.
At least 3 percent of injecting drug users in Kabul
were diagnosed HIV positive, according to a 2006 World
Bank study in Kabul.
“Drug addiction and HIV/AIDS are, together,
Afghanistan’s silent tsunami,” said Suliman of the
There are about 40 treatment centres for addicts,
but most are very small and under-resourced.
Over the past few years donors have disbursed
hundreds of millions of dollars to counter
Afghanistan’s drug problem.
However, officials concede that counter-narcotics
efforts have been concentrated on poppy eradication
and interdiction but little attention has been paid to
the rising addiction crisis.
“Donors logically adopted counter-narcotics
policies based on their own national interests,” said
UNODC’s Lemahieu, adding that Afghanistan’s addiction
and HIV problems were increasingly being acknowledged
by donors and the government.
MCN’s Afzali praised US support for
counter-narcotics efforts but said other donors,
particularly European ones, have not properly
understood the country’s drug problems.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.