reporter record sounds from burning of sacks of
narcotic drugs during the biggest destruction of
drugs in the history of Afghanistan on the
outskirt of Kabul, July 5, 2006
The United Nations
says addiction rates in war-torn Afghanistan have
doubled in the past two years, to the point that
nearly a million people are now using illegal drugs.
The lyrics are a
prayer. A drug counselor is asking God to help end
drug addiction in Afghanistan.
As he sings, about 25
men sit on cushions scattered across the floor of
the drug treatment center, nodding their heads as
they listen. Several of the men are in their 50s or
60s and silently stroke their beards in time to the
The clinic is an old
two-story building with a small central courtyard.
From the street the building is anonymous, just one
more dilapidated house on a dusty street outside
Kabul. But inside, the men are taking their first
steps toward ending their addiction. Most are still
using drugs but have promised to cut back. Within a
week, they will try to stop entirely.
Abdul Jalil is in the second stage of recovery. He
stopped taking drugs several days ago, and is going
through the painful process of withdrawal. As he
speaks, he wraps his arms around his stomach and
leans forward slowly until he is almost doubled
He says he started
abusing drugs more than 20 years ago, during the
Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
Like so many other
men here at the clinic, he says he began smoking
hashish after he lost his job and could not find new
work. Soon he was experimenting with tiny bits of
opium. Within months, he says, he was a heroin
addict, injecting himself with the opium derivative
several times a day.
According to a recent
United Nations survey, there are nearly a million
drug abusers in Afghanistan today. Almost 200,000 of
them are hard-core opium and heroin addicts.
Dr. Tariq Suliman
runs the Nejat Center in Kabul, where Jalil is
recovering. He says addiction rates throughout the
country are higher now than ever before.
He says the number of
female addicts, in particular, is on the rise. More
than 100,000 women addicts were identified in the
U.N. survey, but he says the real number could be
several times higher.
Like the men, many of
the women started taking drugs while living in
refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan or Iran during
the war against the Soviet Union, or the subsequent
civil war. For thousands of these refugees, he says,
drugs were one of the only ways to relieve the pain
and frustration of camp life.
Today, Suliman says,
Afghanistan's grinding poverty and massive illegal
drug trade are creating a new generation of addicts,
male and female.
The country produces
an estimated 90 percent of the world's illegal
opium, and the drug is readily available in almost
every town and city throughout the country.
When the strict
Islamist Taleban group controlled the country in the
late 1990s, it used draconian measures to cut the
opium crop sharply. But since the Taleban's
overthrow in 2001, impoverished farmers have
returned to growing the lucrative opium.
community has committed millions of dollars to help
Afghanistan fight opium production. But Suliman says
funding to help drug addicts like Jalil is almost
He says his clinic
only has room for 20 live-in patients. Another 20
take part in an out-patient program. In the entire
country, he says, there are only three other drug
centers, with fewer than 100 beds among them.
For women the
situation is even worse. The clinics are all
reserved for men out of deference to Afghanistan's
conservative social customs.
Female addicts can
only receive treatment in their own homes, and
without the benefit of support groups.
The Afghan government
says it plans to build at least five new clinics
around the country. But so far, funding is short,
and construction has yet to begin. For now the focus
is on prevention. The U.N. is helping train local
health workers and funds public awareness campaigns
in an effort to limit the number of new addicts.
Back at the Nejat
Center, the patients say they know just how lucky
they are to have at least a chance of recovery.
As the day patients
play music to pass the time, several of the men jump
to their feet and start dancing.
Upstairs, Abdul Jalil
says he can feel the drugs leaving his body. He says
that in a few days, he should be healthy enough to
go home and see his family. If he is lucky, he says,
he will find a job.