Thursday, September 06, 2007

Addictive harvest grips a nation

This is one of those stories that just makes me sad. Just reading it depresses me.

Addictive harvest grips a nation

In a land where more opium and heroin are produced than the entire world consumes, Afghans are increasingly hooked
By Kim Barker Tribune foreign correspondent
September 6, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan - Sabera came to the new treatment center for female drug addicts with a plan. In five days, she would check in along with her daughter, and this time she would leave heroin forever.

And then Sabera went home. Within minutes she started smoking the brown powder on a small canoe-shaped piece of foil. So did her two children. Her son, Zaher, is 14. Her daughter, Gulpari, is 12. The family slumped on cushions against a wall. Zaher barely held his eyes open, rubbed his stomach and muttered, "God, God." Gulpari cuddled against her mother. Their fingers were black with tar.

"I feel very sad about it," said Sabera, who has no last name, like many Afghans, and guesses she is about 45. "It's my fault they're addicted. It's my fault they can't quit."

In this land where more opium and heroin are produced than the entire world consumes, Afghans are increasingly hooked on their own product. And now, Afghan doctors say, more and more women are using the drug, desperate to escape depression or pain. The women suck on pea-sized pieces of opium beneath their tongues, chew it or drink it with tea. Like Sabera, some have started to smoke heroin, which is more refined than opium and considered much more addictive.

Often, mothers take their children with them. They give the skin of the addictive poppy fruit to hungry babies to make them feel full, the mothers say. They blow smoke in the mouths of crying toddlers to quiet them -- a practice that public-service warnings try to discourage. Or, as Sabera says she did two years ago, they say yes to children who wonder what their mother is doing and want to try it.

In July, responding to the capital's growing problem, a new drug treatment center opened for women in Kabul. It is the city's eighth treatment center to open since the fall of the Taliban, which largely banned poppies, and is the first in-patient clinic that treats only women.

"There are families where the whole family is using heroin," said Dr. Shaista, the coordinator of the government-run Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Center, which keeps patients for a month and then gives follow-up treatment.

"Nobody stops it. Nobody bans it. The police are there, but they do nothing. In every corner of the city, people are selling heroin," Shaista said.

For generations Afghans have grown poppies in the country's arid climate, but they traditionally didn't use heroin. Instead, raw opium was exported and refined into heroin for sale in the West.

Since the Taliban was toppled in 2001, poppies have threatened to carpet much of Afghanistan's agricultural land, especially in the south. And increasingly, heroin is being processed inside the country, according to the United Nations and local authorities.

The annual poppy survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, released last week, showed yet another record-breaking year for poppies in Afghanistan, which now is nearly the world's exclusive supplier of heroin. No other country has produced narcotics on such a scale since China in the 19th Century.

Rest of story here:

If you've known anyone in the throws of a drug addiction, this story has to hurt the heart. Is this one of those unintended consequences of the ' War on Terror'?

1 comment:

Brian said...

This is being complicated by the fact that the U.S. didn't work aggressively enough to build an alternative economy. The farmers in Afghanistan have few options.

Initially, the U.S. really had nothing to offer farmers in terms of finances and jobs, in exchange for them giving up poppy farming... So farmers (who have to feed their families) were reluctant to change.

Some farmers are being forced by the Taliban to stick to poppy farming.

The U.S. is now slightly changing its strategy and offer more to farmers to encourage them to give up their poppy crop. But they waited too long... some experts say it's too late.

The poppy crop is so lucrative, that it is hard for farmers there to give it up after they have been doing it for so long.

The funds from poppy farming ends up going to the Taliban.