Almost a million people in Afghanistan - roughly eight per cent of the population between 15 and 64 years old - are drug addicts, according to a report from the UN's Office of Drug Control.
The report says that many Afghans "seem to be taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life". But, as the report points out, this is causing greater misery by creating behavioural, social and health problems, as well as petty crime, traffic and workplace accidents.
Shockingly, the report reveals that around half of all drug users in the north and south of the country give opium to their children, thus condemning them to a life of addiction.
Only ten per cent of those surveyed had received any form of drug treatment, although 90 per cent felt they were in need of it.
The report warns that there is likely to have been substantial under-reporting of drug use, particularly amongst women and children where cultural issues make it difficult to obtain accurate information.
The survey of more than 2,600 drug users and those with knowledge of drug use in their communities follows on from the first survey in 2005. Since then, there has been a massive increase in the use of opium, heroin and other opiates.
Since the last report the number of regular opium users has leapt from 150,000 to 230,000. Heroin users have risen from 50,000 to 120,000. The highest prevalence is found in the main poppy growing areas in the north and south of the country.
The archetypal Afghan drug user is a 28-year-old father of three, married but not cohabiting with his wife, who resides with his extended family in a self-owned house or apartment. He is probably unemployed, is illiterate and has little education. If employed, he probably works as a farmer or unskilled labourer. His monthly earning are less than $120.
He will be spending just over $2 a day on heroin or $1.60 a day on opium. The survey estimates that drug users in Afghanistan spend around $300 million on their drug habit every year. About six per cent of respondents sold themselves for sex to provide money for their habit, leading to fears of a possible HIV epidemic among at-risk populations.
Many people began their drug addiction while refugees. For example, up to 40 per cent of heroin and opium users began to use the drugs while refugees in Iran.
The report does not discuss the financing behind the drug trade - which is said to involve senior members of the Karzai Administration - nor its impact on Taliban finances. But it does beg the question why there has not been a national campaign to highlight the impact of drugs on Afghan society. How do the Moslems of the Taliban justify the huge damage they are doing to their own people? It is well known that the bulk of opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan is consumed locally or in the neighbouring states of Pakistan, Iran and central Asia. Where are the fatwas condemning this murderous trade?
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