Although often mentioned and cited, the opium problem in Afghanistan has rarely been given a human face. The New York Times recently put up a fascinating and informative
slideshow that illustrates the real effects of the global heroin/opium epidemic on the population of the country that is known to be the source of the international scourge. It shows faces, realities and fates in a country where opium is readily available and an attractive escape for those at the bottom of an already-fragile socio-economic ladder.
Given the other problems and ills Afghanistan is battling, it is frightening to see a massive drug problem ravage a vulnerable population. Although men constitute the vast majority of addicts, women can easily also fall prey to addiction if they are left without a male family member to support them financially- as is the case of one of the women featured in the slideshow. Addiction is likely to push such families even deeper into desperation and into a cycle of isolation and extreme hardship. Thankfully, as the slidehow also shows, detox programmes are increasingly targeting these domestic addicts, but with woefully inadequate resources at their disposal.
A new survey on the numbers of addicts in Afghanistan is expected to be published this summer. If the numbers end up being significantly higher than the 200 000 reported a few years back, what will this say about national and international efforts to combat the opium industry in Afghanistan?
Given the publicity this upcoming report is likely to receive, and given the overall reformulation of US policy more heavily in favor of robust civilian programs, do we have some reason to hope this tragic tide will soon turn?
The link to the New York Times slideshow can be found here.
And an ISN Security Watch article on addiction in Afghanistan (from 2007) can be found here.