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First Hashish, Then Opium, Now Everything

Helmand’s only drug clinic cannot cope with the rising number of addicts.
There are an estimated 17,000 drug addicts on the streets of Lashkar Gah, and only one small substance-abuse clinic.

Our reporter Mohammad Qasim Jafary takes us on a visit to the clinic:

Next to a dirty gutter in Lashkar Gah, I see a young man with unkempt hair and dirty clothes, emptying the tobacco out of a cigarette. Then he fills the cigarette with some other stuff and starts eagerly sucking on it. He blows the smoke out and coughs.

It’s easy to guess that it’s hashish. There are lots of people like this man on the streets of Lashkar Gah who are just hanging around aimlessly. Some start with snuff and hashish when they are teenagers, like Saleh Mohammad from Gereshk district, who became an addict when he was 10. Now he’s 18, having progressed from snuff to cigarettes, then hash, then opium and now heroin.

Unfortunately, people like this cause a lot of problems for their families and society. Theft, domestic violence and even murder are among the consequences of addiction. According to Doctor Rauzatullah Zia, some time ago an addict killed eight members of his own family in the Ghulan area of Laskhar Gah.

I went along to the only drug clinic in Lashkar Gah. One of the workers there directed me to an empty and quiet room. The hospital was set up one year ago, and it currently has 20 beds and 25 people.

The treatment period lasts one month, so every month 20 new people are admitted and 30 more are treated as out-patients. Once they stop being addicts, they’re trained in tailoring, carpentry or another skill.

According to the counter-narcotics department for Helmand province, five per cent of the population are addicted to narcotics of various kinds.

“Most of the people referred to us are heroin and opium addicts,” says Dr Rauzatuallah.

According to the doctor, the clinic treats 540 addicts a year, with a 70 per cent success rate.

“We are treating them with the latest methods. Besides the physical aspects, we do psychotherapy and religious education,” he says.

Only 500 people have been treated at this clinic so far – and there are around 70,000 addicts in Helmand.

According to Dr Rauzatullah, “It’s a really important issue. Twenty or 50 beds is really a small amount. We will be launching another addiction clinic in Gereshk as soon as we can.”

Some of the people at the clinic became addicted accidentally while using narcotics as painkillers. Mohammad Omar from Kandahar is one of them. He says, “I am disabled. When my leg was amputated, it was so, so painful. The doctors gave me injections. One day my cousin gave me an injection and told me it was the right thing for my pain. It was great. So I did it again, and I ended up injecting 30 doses a day.”

Abdul Samat, a resident of Nawa district, is among those who came to the clinic of his own volition. He has kicked his addiction and is now in recovery.

“I was in Iran. My friends were addicts. So gradually I too became an addict,” he recalled. “First I started with hash, then I went on to opium and heroin - and after that, whatever was available. Then I came to this hospital, and they began treating me as an out-patient. This is my 45th day drug-free.”

I have to add that in circumstances where poppy cultivation, unemployment and security problems are on the increase, there is sadly no hope of solving this massive social problem, because there are more people becoming addicts than there are stopping.

Qasim Jafari in Lashkar Gah, Helmand.

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