The high number of opium-addicted Afghan women and children is a dramatic consequence of the war in that country. It painfully illustrates how foreign intervention has doomed generations of children to a miserable life.
A U.S.- funded study released in April of 2015, found that one in every nine Afghans -including women and children- uses illegal drugs. For several years, donors have disbursed hundreds of millions of dollars to control Afghanistan’s drug problem. However, most of those funds have been spent on poppy eradication and much less attention has been paid to the rising addiction problem. The U.S. has spent over $8.62 billion in taxpayer funds on counter narcotic efforts.
Although the U.S. government has paid poppy farmers to switch to legitimate crops such as wheat, poppy cultivation has proven to be too lucrative to stop. In 2014, opium cultivation reached record levels: more than 553,000 acres, an increase of seven percent from the year before, according to estimates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).
The export value of opium trade is over $4 billion. A quarter of that amount is being earned by opium farmers and the rest is going to district officials, drug traffickers, insurgents, warlords and, according to this agency. The high drug revenue prolongs insecurity and fuels corruption in the country, already besieged by multiple problems.
According to the U.S. Government estimates, although poppy cultivation had decreased in 2019 compared to 2018, potential pure opium production had increased. 380 tons of heroin and morphine are produced annually, which is approximately 85% of the global supply.
The results of the study should sound an alarm, since not only were opium products found in indoor air samples, but also their concentrations were extremely high, posing a serious health risk to women and children’s health. Very often, husbands addict their wives, and mothers addict children by using opium when they are pregnant, by exposing them to secondhand smoke and by using small amounts of opium to calm them down when they are agitated.
Those who are injecting drugs face the additional risk of HIV infection through the sharing of contaminated syringes. “Drug addiction and HIV/AIDS are, together, Afghanistan’s silent tsunami,” declared Tariq Suliman, director of the Nejat’s rehabilitation center to the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs. There are about 95 treatment centers for addicts dispersed throughout the country but most are small, poorly staffed, and under-resourced.
According to UNDOC, “… Not only does drug production hold back Afghanistan’s development and threaten its security. Drug addiction is harming Afghanistan’s health and welfare. This is another reason to reduce the supply of drugs in Afghanistan. And it calls for much greater resources for drug prevention and treatment in Afghanistan, as part of mainstream health care and development programs.”
The United States and its allies that have conducted the war have the responsibility and the economic possibilities to expand, adequately fund and provide the human resources needed by the treatment and rehabilitation centers throughout the country. The high level of drug addiction in Afghanistan is one of the most tragic legacies of a disastrous and unnecessary war.
Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.