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Battling drug addiction in Afghanistan

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

A drug addict in Kabul
One in 30 Afghans are addicts, the UN says

When Rahim Ahmedy was an Afghan refugee in neighbouring Iran, he and his friends would go on three-day picnics.

They would slaughter sheep for feasting and take drugs such as opium and heroin.

At first the 30-year-old thought it was fun. But then it took over his life.

He returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taleban in 2001 with all his worldly possessions - and a drug addiction.

"Then my family became distant from me," said the father-of-one, his face gaunt and emaciated, sitting in the Nejat drug treatment clinic in Kabul.

"It was then that I realised how bad the drugs had become."

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of heroin and opium. But less well known is the country's drug problem.

According to the most recent UN figures in 2005, there are about one million addicts in a country of about 30 million people.

'Increasing'

But some officials and organisations believe that the true figure is higher.

"The addicts are increasing year on year," said General Khodaidad, the Afghan Minister for Counter-Narcotics. "This is a type of war that we are fighting."

Drug addiction takes many forms in Afghanistan.

In many cases, refugees, like Mr Ahmedy, have returned to the country with their habits.

Najib Hakimi
Najib Hakimi says he is determined to give up drugs

Other addicts are opium farmers, hooked on the drug they harvest.

Some are female carpet weavers who take opium to dull the aches in their fingers joints. And many are young users with little else to do.

The Afghan government with the help of the international community has established about 40 drug addiction clinics, according to officials.

They are dispersed throughout the country.

But Dr Tariq Suliman, the director of the Nejat clinic, says that the number of places available for treatment needs to dramatically increase.

He also says that there needs to be greater awareness about drugs among the general population.

"The important thing is that the young people who aren't involved in drugs know the dangers," he says. "This would be a very positive step."

Social element

The Nejat clinic runs a three-month programme to help wean participants off drugs.

The drug addicts are provided advice by medical professionals on how to rehabilitate and detoxify their bodies.

There is also a large social element to the programme, with participants regularly drinking tea together, talking and even playing chess.

Dr Suliman says that the treatment has about a 30% success rate among the participants.

An addict sleeping rough in Kabul
An addict sleeping rough in Kabul

One of those in the programme and determined to get off heroin is Najib Hakimi, 30, who used to be a driver.

He became addicted to drugs after socialising with his nephew who is a heroin addict.

"The only thing I now have is my family," he says, explaining that he lost his job because of his drug addiction. "But I'm lucky to be alive."

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, drug addicts seeking help arrive at the clinic.

At one stage, three men turn up. They are dirty and bedraggled, but Dr Suliman welcomes them warmly to the facility.

Another doctor gives them a small bottle of shampoo and they are taken to shower blocks to wash themselves. They may just be the lucky ones to get the attention they need.

Afghanistan is a country facing many problems - and many of its most needy are being overlooked.

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SEE ALSO
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