AP PHOTOS: Desperation and poverty fuel drug use in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Hundreds of men who used heroin, opium and meth were scattered in tents or lying in the dirt over a hillside above Kabul. Some of them overdose, quietly slipping the line between despair and death.

“There’s a dead man next to you,” someone told me as I weaved between them and snapped photos.

“We buried someone over there earlier,” said another.

A man lay face down in the mud and didn’t move. I shook his shoulder and asked if he was alive. He turned his head a little, only halfway out of the mud, and whispered that it was him.

“You’re dying,” I told him. “Try to survive.”

“It’s okay,” he said, his voice sounding weary. “It’s okay to die.”

He lifted his body a little. I gave him some water and someone gave him a glass pipe with heroin. Smoking gave him some energy. He said his name was Dawood. He had lost a leg to a mine during the war about a decade ago and was unable to work afterwards. His life fell apart and he turned to drugs to escape.

Drug addiction has long been a problem in Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin and now a major source of meth. Drug use has been fueled by persistent poverty and decades of war that have left few families unscathed.

It seems to be getting worse since the country’s economy collapsed after the Taliban took power in August 2021 and the subsequent halt to international funding. Families that were once able to make ends meet found their livelihoods cut off, leaving many unable to afford food. Millions have joined the ranks of the impoverished.

Drug users can be found around Kabul, living in parks and sewers, under bridges and on open hills.

A 2015 United Nations survey estimated that up to 2.3 million people used drugs that year, which would have been about 5% of the population at the time. Seven years later, the number is not known, but according to Dr. Zalmel, the head of the Drug Demand Reduction Department, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, is believed to have only gone up.

The Taliban have launched an aggressive campaign to eradicate poppy cultivation. At the same time, they adopted the policy of the toppled, internationally-backed government of forcing drug users into camps.

Earlier in the summer, Taliban fighters stormed two areas frequented by drug users – one on a hillside and the other under a bridge. They gathered about 1,500 people, officials said. They were taken to the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment, a former US military base.

It is the largest of several treatment camps in the Kabul area. There the residents were shaved and kept in a barrack for 45 days. You will not receive any treatment or medication during withdrawal. The camp barely has enough money to feed the people living there.

Such camps do little to treat addiction.

A week after the raids, both places were again full of hundreds of people using drugs.

On top of the hill I saw a man wandering in the dark with a dim flashlight. He was looking for his brother who years ago got into drug use and left home. “I hope that one day I can find him,” he said.

Under the bridge, where the stench was overwhelming, a man in his 30s posing as Nazer appeared to be a figure of respect, breaking up fights and settling disputes.

He said he spends most of his days under the bridge but occasionally goes to his house. The addiction ran through his family, he said.

As I marveled that the area under the bridge had filled up again, Nazir smiled.

“It’s normal,” he said. “Every day there are more. … It never ends.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/ap-photos-afghan-despair-poverty-fuel-addiction-scourge/2022/07/20/f0a5489c-07f2-11ed-80b6-43f2bfcc6662_story.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_world AP PHOTOS: Desperation and poverty fuel drug use in Afghanistan

Dustin Huang

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