Reversing opium stance, Taliban round up thousands of drug addicts

KABUL, 3 Feb 2023:

Over four decades of war, an economic crisis and unlimited supply of cheap drugs in a country that fulfils 80% of the global opium demand has pushed thousands of Afghans into drug-addiction – a problem the Taliban are trying to tackle by forcibly confining addicts into special facilities.

However, as many rehabilitation centres have shut down after the Islamists seized power in August 2021 and international aid to the country was cut back, the campaign has led to the facilities overcrowding.

The Taliban are trying to resolve the issue by opening a new 5,000-bed facility this week.

The anti-narcotics deputy ministry, a department of the internal affairs ministry, says currently there are around 3.5 million drug addicts in Afghanistan.

In an attempt to respond to the situation, the fundamentalists have forcibly institutionalised over 6,000 Afghans as part of a long-term campaign

“So far, we have collected and admitted around 6,350 addicts in 32 provinces of the country in 18 rounds campaigns for treatment,” said Nasir Menqad, a spokesperson of the anti-narcotics department.

The campaign, whose effectiveness raises doubts in a country that produces the majority of the world’s opium despite an official ban, has resulted in massive pressure on the rehabilitation centres that remain open.

The main centre in Kabul is equipped with 1,000 beds, but the number of inmates has now surged to four times the capacity, as the major part of the addicts forced to seek treatment by the Taliban were identified in the capital.

“Our hospital capacity is only for 1,000 addicts, but because of the campaign we have hospitalised more than 4,000, which has caused a lot of problems,” said Maiwand Hoshmand, a psychology consultant at the facility.

“As this is an emergency situation and this is the main centre for addict rehabilitation, we are trying our best to rescue our countrymen.”

The number of young people falling prey to drug addiction has surged in Afghanistan over the past year, the doctor said, also citing devastating number of ex-addicts relapsing.

“The lack of awareness, unemployment, and lack of family attention to newly recovered persons has made them return to addiction,” Hoshmand said.

Taliban have focused on institutionalising the homeless who usually lose contact with their family due to addiction, the psychotherapist said. Explaining the typical programme at the centre lasts for 45 days, their stay can be extended to three months if the patients suffer psychological issues.

The overcrowding at the facilities led to the Taliban on Wednesday inaugurating a new 5,000-bed centre.

According to state news agency Bakhter, Afghan deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi said treating addicts was the interim government’s “moral responsibility,” and blamed the ousted regime for the problem – even though historically opium production had remained concentrated in Taliban-control areas until the group seized power.

Farid, 52, said he had been admitted to the centre by the Taliban 10 days ago.

“The hardships of life and overthinking have forced me into drug-addiction” for the last 10 years, he said, describing a long and fruitless job search in the conflict-ridden country.

“Most of the addictions are a result of unemployment, and creating working opportunity will prevent addiction,” Farid insisted.

Mohammad Azim, another inmate, said he was happy to be admitted in the centre despite the difficult conditions.

“Definitely I am happy, I will be thankful as I at least live here as a human, as the previous life (addiction) was inhuman” the 45-year-old noted.

Azim said he had lived for years “on the line between oblivion, despair and death,” under a bridge in Kabul which is a known shelter for hundreds of addicts.

The previous Afghan government had vacated the area several times over the past two decades but the addicts always returned to it.

The Taliban government has also tried unsuccessfully to clear out the infamous bridge.