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A Fateful Harvest - part 7 - Addiction

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Published on May 27, 2008

Over 100,000 people use opium in Afghanistan. How many are addicted to heroin? Should opium be used as medicine to calm children?

Today, illegal processing in Afghanistan has made drugs cheaper and more available within the country... The result is that increasingly Afghans themselves are succumbing to the dangers of the country's largest cash crop.

A recent United Nations survey puts the number of heroin addicts throughout the country at 50,000. That's in addition to 150,000 people who use opium.
Poverty and unemployment are two causes of drug abuse.

But in Afghanistan, there's another reason:

Antonio Maria Costa:
'...during the past quarter century, so many conflicts -- against the Soviets, against one another, the mujahadin, the Civil War period, the Taliban rules, the fight against the Taliban, all of this has created a context whereby people, especially internally displaced people, especially refugees, finding themselves in dire conditions, so some of them started to use opium as a way of just forgetting the daily chores, and the daily difficulties and the tragedies in life

President Karzai:
'...drug addiction unfortunately has come to Afghanistan, mainly as consequence of being refugees in our neighboring countries. It ruins families, its something that worries me a lot its something that we have not yet has done much unfortunately.'

Many of the country's addicts picked up their habit elsewhere -- in neighboring Pakistan ... or Iran, where per capita heroin use is the highest in the world.
Among them, 39 year old Abdurahman, who struggled twelve years with addiction. His life reveals a growing trend in a country where domestic drug abuse was once virtually unknown.

Abdurahman
I became a useless human being.'




Realizing how his addiction affected his family, Abdurahman quit using heroin. He is also very firm on his outlook on those working in the illegal drug trade.

Abdurahman
'The person who does this is not a Muslim and not from this land. He is someone against the people, against the youth the people of the world. He is even worse than Osama.

Abdurahman escaped from the web of addiction ... but many Afghans still struggle ... North of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan is where the Central Asian steppes begin ... a flat grassy plain that stretches hundreds of miles into Russia. In Balkh province, farming and herding still prevail as a way of life. Today, the province is poppy-free, the result of the government's rigorous anti-narcotics campaign.

But addiction rates are growing.

And it's here where Dr Mohammad Ehsan Hamra practices, serving some of the most remote parts of the country, where access to medical care is limited.
Dr Ehsan sees many addicts whose abuse resulted from war, displacement or a society in chaos.
However, he also encounters traditional communities where drug addiction is rampant. The UNODC estimates one-third of the people in this district, mostly Turkmen, are drug-addicted.

Dr Ehsan:
'Turkmens live in a tribal system. They have used drugs for many years as medicine for reducing pain and because of the lack of access to health facilities. Finally, another main reason, I think, is that they do heavy physical work ...'

In a traditional village, opium addiction may look different than an urban setting. Fifty-year old Najiba, a mother of five, is a carpet weaver whose rugs are sold in shops in the provincial capital of Mazar E-Sharif 30 miles away.




Interviewer: 'Where does your body hurt when you're weaving rugs?
Weaver: 'Everyplace. My back, my legs, every place




Interviewer: 'What medicine do you use when it hurts you?
Weaver: 'We eat opium
Interviewer: 'Does that help you reduce pain?
Weaver: 'Yes ''

Opium also serves another purpose for rug weavers needing to keep their hands free of child-caring duties.




Interviewer: How many times do you give opium to the child?




Interviewee: two times. When her mother gets tired, the baby does not let her to sleep Interviewer: Why two times?
Interviewee: We give the baby opium in the morning because we are weaving carpet. We give him at night because he does not let her mother sleep and we weave carpet.

Dr Ehsan:
'From my point of view it is a tragedy; a child does not know. He is not responsible for becoming addicted, from my experience, it seems to me that the mothers they don't have awareness about the side effects of drug and opium. Therefore, the innocent child is not responsible. His only fault is to be in Afghanistan where people's level of awareness is low. These children need good and healthy futures.

Begun in childhood -- or later to alleviate work-related pain -- opium addiction often continues into old age.

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