Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Opium addiction in Afghanistan at epidemic proportions

An Associated Press article paints the picture of rural Afghanistan that has an opium addiction problem of epidemic proportions. Entire families become addicted to the opium, and they begin to sell all they have in order to get more. People who are not addicted have to quarantine themselves to stay away from the addicted, fearing they will being opium into their homes. Many areas in rural Afghanistan do not have access to medicine, some shops don't even carry aspirin, so when a someone gets hurt they are given opium to treat the pain.

From the AP article that we found at the Taiwan News, writer Rukmini Callimachi profiles a family of addicts.

Open the door to Islam Beg's house and the thick opium smoke rushes out into the cold mountain air, like steam from a bathhouse. It's just past 8:00 a.m. and the family of six - including a 1-year-old baby boy - is already curled up at the lip of the opium pipe.

Beg, 65, breathes in and exhales a cloud of smoke. He passes the pipe to his wife. She passes it to their daughter. The daughter blows the opium smoke into the baby's tiny mouth. The baby's eyes roll back into his head.

Their faces are gaunt. Their hair is matted. They smell.

In dozens of mountain hamlets in this remote corner of Afghanistan, opium addiction has become so entrenched that whole families - from toddlers to old men - are addicts. The addiction moves from house to house, infecting entire communities cut off from the rest of the world by glacial streams. From just one family years ago, at least half the people of Sarab, population 1,850, are now addicts.

Afghanistan supplies nearly all the world's opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and while most of the deadly crop is exported, enough is left behind to create a vicious cycle of addiction. There are at least 200,000 opium and heroin addicts in Afghanistan - 50,000 more than in the much bigger, wealthier U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a 2005 survey by the U.N. A new survey is expected to show even higher rates of addiction, a window into the human toll of Afghanistan's back-to-back wars and desperate poverty.

Unlike in the West, the close-knit nature of communities here makes addiction a family affair. Instead of passing from one rebellious teenager to another, the habit passes from mother to daughter, father to son. It's turning villages like this one into a landscape of human depredation.

Except for a few soiled mats, Beg's house is bare. He has pawned all his family's belongings to pay for drugs.

"I am ashamed of what I have become," says Beg, an unwashed turban curled on his head. "I've lost my self-respect. I've lost my values. I take the food from this child to pay for my opium," he says, pointing to his 5-year-old grandson, Mamadin. "He just stays hungry."

1 comment:

Canada Guy said...

Instabilty and war are the primary factors responsible for increased opium production in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion, and during the brief rule of the Taliban, opium production was either very limited, or deliberated curtailed. Soon after the war is over, production is likely to plummet.