Opium addicts of Afghanistan: Number of junkies TRIPLES to 150,000 despite war on drugs
- United Nations warns of epidemic as opium production soars
- Problem has got worse since British troops entered in 2006
- More than 1m Afghans are addicted to one drug or another
- Dirt cheap price of drugs exacerbating the problem
PUBLISHED: 08:06 EST, 21 May 2013 | UPDATED: 10:20 EST, 21 May 2013
heroin addict father smokes the deadly drug contentedly as his two innocent children sit watching him adoringly.
The oblivious man is part of a growing epidemic in the war-torn country of Afghanistan, which has seen the number of opium and heroin addicts tripling to 150,000, according to latest United Nations Figures, while 225,000 used the drug in 2012.
In a country with a population 35million, there are now more than 1m addicts of one drug or another.
It represents a major problem for the country, which produces 90 per cent of all opiates in the world.
Until recently, though, it was not a major consumer, but this has changed over the past decade.
The reasons why so many Afghans are turning to drugs are complex but it is thought decades of violence have had a serious effect on the nation’s psyche.
Many of those who fled during the fighting of the last 30 years took refuge in Iran and Pakistan, where addiction rates have long been high. They’re now returning and bringing their drug problems with them, officials say.
Unemployment – which currently stands at nearly 40% – is also taking its toll.
To buy heroin in Kabul is ‘as easy as buying yourself something to eat’, addicts say. One gram costs about $6 (£3.91), and it’s available in every corner of the city.
The health ministry runs 95 addiction treatment centres around the country, with enough bed space for 2,305 people.
Exacerbating the problem is a recent rise in opium production levels.
It has tripled in Helmand has tripled since British troops arrived in the Afghan province in 2006, according to the UN.
Its report says more than 75,000 hectares of Helmand were given over to opium cultivation last year, up from just 25,500 hectares in 2005.
‘The prices are still quite high. That is a very clear economic incentive,’ Martin Raithelhuber of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told Reuters.
‘We can’t deny the fact that the level of cultivation now is much higher than it has ever been under the Taliban.’
With foreign combat forces leaving in less than two years, and with much of their cash and air power expected to go with them, the Afghan government will need more help fighting poppy cultivation, experts say.
The UNODC in 2011 estimated the opium trade may have earned the Taliban $700million (£460million), up from $200million (£130million) a year in the previous decade, with traffickers earning billions more.