In 2012, Afghanistan produced ninety-five percent of the opium consumed worldwide. This unintended consequence of the US-led war there has numerous ramifications, including a flood of heroin available on all continents, a huge source of funding for the Taliban, and a dire internal problem of addiction. In one province, a man named Abdurahim Mutar sold his sister to fund his habit. His wife medicated their children with opium to keep them quiet, and his mother and brother are also addicted.
Lack of information about opiate addiction, combined with availability of cheap drugs, is part of the reason for the ongoing epidemic. Abdurahim and his wife claim they were not aware of the dangers to their children when they force-fed them opium, saying, “It’s very common here.” He has been addicted for thirteen years, having started when he joined the mujahideen.
It is estimated that Afghanistan has over a million addicts. Treatment options are severely limited, with approximately ten thousand addicts receiving treatment each year. Thirteen out of thirty-four provinces in the nation do not offer any kind of treatment at all. Compounding the issue is the fact of police corruption and a general laxity in enforcement.
Also problematic is the addiction rate in neighboring Iran, which has long been among the world’s highest but also recently has seen a rise in the use of crystal meth. Because Afghanistan has a high rate of unemployment, many Afghanis cross the border into Iran for work, where they are introduced to cheap and readily available opium. In some rural villages, drug use is as high as thirty percent, and the attendant problems—crime, health problems, and zero productivity—continue to erode the war-torn economy and social fabric.
The Taliban, a product of the Russian occupation of the 1980’s, originally opposed drug cultivation on the basis that the Koran forbade the use of any intoxicants. After 9/11 and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban took advantage of the weakness of the new government, corruption, and the fact that opium cultivation was profitable to farmers and tribal leaders, and reversed their stance on the morality of the drug market. The problem persists, intractably, with devastating consequences.
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