Copyright UN Photo/UNODC/Zalmai
If you’re even a teensy bit cynical, you could say that Afghanistan is a giant heroin lab that also happens to be a sovereign nation. The country produces 90 percent of the world’s opium; the drug is grown on family-cultivated poppy fields in rural areas like the Farah Province and shot by skag fiends in broad daylight on the streets of Kabul. With at least 200,000 users among a population of 30 million, the only place with more junkies per capita is Iran.
One related statistic that seems to be ignored is that the greatest victims of Afghanistan’s drug epidemic are women, many of who suffer silently under a haze of opium smoke. In 2007, there were an estimated 100,000 female addicts in the country, largely a byproduct of the 1 million widows and recently returned refugees. Considering the conservative Islamic traditions that keep many women confined to their homes and stigmatize drug abusers, 100,000 is most likely a drastic understatement. Worse still, only 10 percent of Afghan women even have access to the scant drug treatment that is available.
Drug dealers seek out women here the same as anywhere else. Nazif M. Shahrani, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, said, “There are people who would peddle it, and they will go and encourage the women to indulge. They may even give it to them for free. And eventually it hooks them. It’s not long before those women have to go and find money, or even steal to support the habit.”
Of course, addiction isn’t just wrecking the lives of women. Increasing drug-abuse rates will have a profound impact on the next generation who are being raised by dope-fiend moms. A 2010 study conducted by the US State Department found that in 31 out of 42 homes where adult addicts lived, there were signs of children being exposed to drugs.
Videos from the rural northeast Wakhan region depict families huddled together in shanties, passing around the dream stick. When their children cry of hunger pains or cold, the mothers blow smoke in the kids’ faces or rub opium powder on their lips to settle them down—practices once isolated to small ethnic groups like the Wakhi that are now widespread because of limited access to doctors in the wake of recent wars. And suckling from a junkie tit can be lethal, which is pretty much the most hopeless image imaginable.