Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cultural practices leading to opium addiction crisis in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the growing practice of giving opium to children as sedatives or in place of medicine is creating a large population of drug addicts that the Afghan government cannot adequately care for, Rosie DiManno writes in Tuesday’s Toronto Star.

Instructed by their families, tribal leaders, and locals purporting to have knowledge of medicine, mothers in Afghanistan will administer in place of medicine, and often as a sedative to quiet unruly children. While it has been a cultural practice for generations, the increasing use of the drug is now creating hundreds of thousands of addicts.

With the nation’s healthcare system crippled by decades of warfare, mothers are increasingly forced to use opium in place of medicine when access to medical care becomes too difficult. The lagging economy and job market, also plagued by years of war, has left many young men and women idle and depressed and consequently very vulnerable to drug addiction and dependency.

Once a nation that merely produced and exported narcotics, Afghanistan is now becoming internally consumed by drugs. A study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission documented 920,000 addicts, out of which 120,000 are women. The province of Balkh, which according to the article did not cultivate any poppies in 2007, alone accounted for 110,000 addicts.

Dr. Mobien Sultani runs the Counter-Narcotics Recovery program in Balkh, which offers drug education and is one of only two such detox centers in the country. The program has served 376 men, women, and children (some as young as 6 months old) since its inception in 2006 and is part of a larger network of drug education clinics in the province. But with only 20 beds and five social workers, his team can accomplish only so much in the face of a national problem.

“It’s not much but we do the best we can,” says Sultani. “The most important thing, though, is education, getting into the communities and making people understand about the dangers of opium, about harm reduction. We go into the schools, talk to the elders, at the shuras and in the mosques.” He adds: “It is a very big job, a major challenge. But on our side, we also have Islam, which forbids the use of narcotics. Our faith is our strongest weapon.”

For the full article, click here.


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