Fighting opium addiction in Afghanistan

    2:22 PM, Sep 19, 2012   |    comments
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    KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- When you think of Afghanistan, many think of war. But few think about a drug war. In a country known as the opium capital of the world, people use drugs in broad daylight, right out in the open.

    In a park in downtown Kabul huddled under the trees are a group of Afghans ignored by society. With a syringe in one hand, a vial of heroin in the other, a 28-year-old man begins a ritual that's been part of his life for the past seven years.

    He draws the liquid out, what's left over he drinks, and then he gets into position. Health workers give him sterile swabs to clean his skin. He doesn't use the crook of his arm because his veins have collapsed. Instead he chooses the back of his hand.

    For the next five minutes he slowly pumps heroin into his veins, he then collapses with the needle still sticking out of his hand.

    This is a tragic scene repeated throughout the country with up to a million Afghanis addicted to drugs. That's eight percent of the population, double the world average.

    With Afghanistan producing 90 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient of heroin, drugs here are pure in quality and very cheap.

    Reza, 28, injects half a gram a day which costs around $4 U.S. dollars. He started a year ago after being introduced to it by a "bad friend". He says he'd like to give up, but at the moment he can't. "Using drugs made me leave my home, my family", he says. "If I didn't use drugs I would have a family, a good life."

    Ernst Jenco runs a preventative drug program for Medecins Du Monde in Kabul. It's the only clinic that provides methadone, a substitute for heroin, but they can only legally cater for 71 drug users. Jenco says, "I would describe the drug addiction problem in Afghanistan as enormous and growing."

    The clinic also helps addicts who walk in off the street. Ernst introduces 38-year-old Asadullah who has been an addict for 14 years. The father of four says his family has had enough. He says, "I want to be a healthy person, to serve my family, my society. I'll use methadone until I forget the drug completely - that way I can start a normal life."

    Two years ago there was a real sign the Afghan government and the international community wase serious about tackling drug addiction in this country. A methadone program started but a few months later it was shut down. Officials saying they're still trying to decide if this is the best form of treatment. According to the UN it is, but that means little to the countless number of desperate Afghanis who can't access the methadone program.

    Masoma, 25, is willing to try a more basic form of treatment. She and her entire family, including her two young boys, are addicted to opium. "I started to use the drug like a medicine for pain relief after my husband died", she explains. "But when I became an addict I had to search for a way to stop this."

    They're staying at Mother Camp, an organization founded by a local Afghan woman, which tackles drug abuse through counseling. Masoma says, "I feel shame and say to myself why did I do this, why didn't I think of my children, my future."

    This is a power motive that, for now, is keeping her addiction at bay. Masoma is further down the road to breaking her habit that many, many others on the streets of Kabul.

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