KABUL, AFGHANISTAN—The scene beneath a crumbling overpass was a vision from hell. Hundreds of figures huddled together in the shadows, crouching amid garbage and fetid pools of water. Some injected heroin into each other’s limbs or groins in full view; others hid under filthy shawls to cook and inhale it.
An elderly man in a turban wandered among the addicts, showing them a snapshot of his missing son. A young man lay unconscious on a muddy blanket after a long, cold night, while others speculated whether he was already dead.
“I love my son, but he is sick from drugs,” said the old man, a labourer who gave his name as Ghausuddin. He looked at the photo and began to weep. “He must be cured. All of these boys must be cured or they must be killed. They are destroying Afghanistan. A whole generation is being destroyed.”
This culvert beside the desiccated Kabul River, a notorious gathering spot for drug addicts, is at the heart of a scourge that swelled after the U.S. invasion in 2001 and has spread across Afghanistan with alarming speed in recent years. The United Nations estimates that there are now as many as 1.6 million drug users in Afghan cities — about 5.2 per cent of the population — up from 940,000 in 2009. As many as 3 million more are believed to be in the countryside.
The principal causes of this epidemic, officials say, are rampant unemployment, the return of addicted workers from wartime exile in Iran or Pakistan, and bumper harvests of opium poppies.
Several addicts in the culvert said they spent about $2 daily on small packets of heroin. Sellers constantly came and went. “Doctors” charged 20 cents to find veins that had not collapsed from overuse, then injected heroin powder mixed with water on the spot.
A plainclothes officer was also there, talking with addicts and keeping an eye out for exchanges of cash and drugs. He said he and his partner usually arrest two or three people a day, but that many were so addicted that they had to be taken to a hospital for detoxification after a night in jail.
“We work hard but we are overwhelmed. The number of addicts is increasing by the day,” said the officer, who gave his name as Khalid. He gestured toward the mass of huddled figures. “Every day three or four of them die. They come here and they never leave.”
The addicts can be eager to tell their stories. Some were bleary-eyed and semi-coherent; others were angry or crying. Their ages and backgrounds varied, but Most had two things in common: they had returned to their homeland after years in Iran or Pakistan, and they had been jobless or surviving on menial labour for many months. All were men.
“I started to take powder when I was in Iran, because it gave me strength to work all day. But now powder does not give me relief, so I have to inject it instead,” said a father of four named Nasir, 39. He said he spent most of his petty earnings on drugs and was ashamed to go home. “There are hundreds of others like me here,” he said.
A gaunt young man with a grime-streaked face broke in to the conversation, saying he was desperate to return to his home in Ghazni province. Tears ran down his face and his hands shook. He said he was 19.
“I am stuck here and I can’t go back,” he said. “My family doesn’t know I am living under a bridge. I am so ashamed and sad. I don’t know what do to.”
Khalid shook his head in frustration and disgust. The old man with the snapshot tugged at his sleeve, and the officer recognized the face on it.
“We arrested that guy last night for selling drugs,” he explained. “He is in a safe place now, and we will see what happens. Go home, old man, there is nothing you can do for him.”
Addicted in Afghanistan: ‘I am so ashamed and sad’ | Toronto Star.