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Drug Abuse In the World’s Historic Home of Opium
After nearly a decade and a half of war in Afghanistan, it’s clear that the country is suffering like never before. Separate from the war, and yet closely connected to it, the country’s opium trade is flourishing, making the drug overlords rich, but taking a terrible toll of addiction and suffering on millions of Afghan citizens.
For centuries, Afghanistan has been a major supplier of the world’s opium, from which all the natural opiates and synthetic opioids are derived and refined.
Back in 2000, when the Taliban came to power, opium poppy farming was banned, and production was reduced by over 90 percent. After the war started, the Taliban was beaten back for a while, but according to a recent Washington Post article, they returned as a predatory militia in 2005 and “hampered the eradication and crop substitution programs sponsored by the United States.” Since then they’ve been supporting and making money off the opium trade. Afghanistan’s poppy production came roaring back, and now provides a third of the world’s supply of opium and heroin – more than any other country.
Morphine, heroin and codeine are the most common natural opiates that begin as the thick, white sap of the legendary opium poppy. A host of semi-synthetic opioids also use pure opium as a starting point for most painkillers, including those powerfully addictive painkillers we keep hearing and reading about because of the soaring addiction rates here in the U.S.
In spite of the enormously expensive international efforts led by the U.S. during most of the war years to curb the opium trade, Afghan poppy farmers now have more acres than ever under cultivation. The traditional Afghan poppy crop expanded to a record 520,000 acres in 2013, a U.S. study said, and there’s no sign of it slowing down.
While the poppy crop was reaching new heights, more Afghans were suffering from drug addiction than ever before. The Washington Post said that the U.N. estimated that there are 1.6 million Afghans addicted to drugs just in the cities, and an additional 3 million in more rural areas. The nearly 5 million addicted people comprise 17 percent of the 30 million population — probably the highest per capita addiction rate of any country in the world.
Some sort of cosmic karma?
Afghans are suffering in a society that provides almost no help in the larger towns and cities for addiction, and even less everywhere else. With all the heroin and opium addiction around the country, it’s clear that the world’s biggest pusher of illicit opium is suffering some serious payback. Most observers see it as some powerful cosmic karma at work.
It’s not like the thousands of farmers, lab workers and processors, transporters, regional and national bosses and internationally-connected drug kingpins don’t know they’re peddling death around the world. They know perfectly well what they’re doing. But they aren’t the 5 million Afghans who are addicted. These aren’t the drug bosses and on-the-take politicos. They’re just ordinary people.
Some of these people may have gotten a little too close to the drug trade — workers in the fields and labs frequently do become addicted — but many more are “just plain folks” like most of our own people suffering from addiction right here at home. They have little or nothing to do with the illicit opium trade, they’re primarily just customers.
Afghanistan has a serious drug problem, and the men in charge of the country are doing little or nothing to deal with it effectively. When you compare Afghanistan to the U.S. and the rest of the world, it’s plain that the country is in a very bad way indeed.
World and U.S. addiction rates are much lower, but we’re struggling too
The United Nations estimates that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids and opiates worldwide. That’s such a tiny fraction of the world population it’s too small to even measure as a percentage. Nevertheless, it’s still tens of millions of people in the world who need help getting their lives back from the prison of opioid and opiate addiction. And almost everywhere you go, there are problems trying to find sufficient treatment facilities.
Here in the U.S., 2.1 million Americans suffer from disorders related to prescription opioids, and an additional 467,000 are addicted to heroin — roughly 2.6 million all told enslaved by the products of the opium poppy.
Now, that’s less than 0.8 percent of the U.S. population – a far cry from the more than 5 percent of the population of Afghanistan. Can you imagine what would be going on here if over 5 percent of Americans were strung out on pills and heroin?
Yet everyone from the White House down to the local officialdom, health care and law enforcement already are screaming bloody murder over our 0.8 percent. And rightfully so! Treatment and prevention efforts in every state have never received so much attention and support. And yet we’re still a long way off from handling the situation.
Treatment just isn’t a priority in Afghanistan
But in Afghanistan, it’s just not a priority. According to a recent story from Public Radio International (PRI), the Afghan government has space for only about 2,300 of the 1.6 million addicted people in its drug treatment facilities around the country. There’s only one functioning government-run clinic in Kabul, the country’s main city, and it has space for just 300 people. There are thousands of those suffering from addiction in and around Kabul as well as in all other Afghan cities.
Across the country, there are roughly 100 drug treatment centers. Most are funded by international aid, not the Afghan government. Yet some “insider” reports claim that a sizable chunk of the millions earned by the so-called illicit poppy trade finds its way straight into the pockets of the country’s leaders and even into government coffers.
For the minuscule few who do manage to get treatment, PRI said, relapses are a major problem. The Ministry of Public Health said the relapse rate for people treated at the Kabul center is 40 percent. Although the government tries to follow up with those in recovery, resources are scarce, the report said.
To say that most of Afghanistan’s citizens aren’t getting any help is an understatement. More treatment centers are planned, the government says, but at the moment it’s “facing severe revenue shortages and can hardly even pay salaries to public officials,” PRI said. Despite the enormous need, drug treatment in Afghanistan just isn’t a top priority. We hope that in the not too distant future things will improve for the people of Afghanistan.
Fortunately, here at Novus, help with substance abuse disorders is always available. For anyone wanting to turn their life around and free themselves from the bonds of drugs and alcohol, the best place in to be is right here at Novus Medical Detox Center.
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