Drug Rehab Comes To War-Torn, Opium-Rich Afghanistan
KABUL — Here at Pol-e Sokhta, in a spot in western Kabul where hundreds of drug addicts gather each day, Afghan government workers have become a regular presence.
The government workers have been given the mission to round up the city's drug users and move them to a former NATO base, less than 10 kilometers away. The Afghan ministries of counter-narcotics, public health and economy have joined together in the initiative to provide treatment for drug addicts at the camp.
Salamat Azimi, Minister of Counter Narcotics, says the state has the means to treat thousands of drug addicts, and will soon be opening another similar camp in eastern Afghanistan. "We wanted to provide services to those who are addicted to drugs and are living in a very bad situation," Azimi said.
Gul Aqa, 35, has been using a cocktail of drugs, from morphine to opium, for about three years now. Burns are visible on his fingers from accidentally lighting his hands while smoking drugs. "I want to be treated so I can return to my old life," Aqa says, "Nobody has offered to provide treatment before, so I am happy to go to this rehab center."
In the past few days alone, hundreds of drug users have been collected from the streets and moved to Camp Phoenix. From outside, the camp looks like a military base, but inside the rooms are modern and clean, and it's here where Kabul's addicts will be treated for the addiction, and some will be given job training in such fields as carpentry and house painting.
Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz says they plan to help as many users as possible. "Our aim is to start by finding the drug addicts who are homeless, abandoned by their relatives, and are living on the street," he explains. "The campaign will continue over the coming days. Alongside treatment at the camp, they will be trained in different skills and professions to stimulate their minds and encourage to move away from drugs."
Thirty-year-old Habiballah is a former sergeant for the Afghan army, having served in the war-torn Helmand province. He started using drugs to cope with the pressure of fighting against the Taliban and facing their deadly ambushes.
"During the fighting and insurgency I had to deal with a lot of mental stress, that's why I started using drugs," he says, "When I got addicted my relationship with my wife and daughters and other family members fell apart."
Habiballah was eventually forced to leave the army, and fell deeper into addiction. "I don't know where my family is now. So far the treatment has been good, I feel happy and healthy and hope to get back to normal."
But back at Pol-e Sokhta, not all the drug users encountered are happy to be taken to Camp Phoenix. A number of addicts that live under a bridge in the western part of Kabul refuse to move.
Relapsed drug user Mohammad Yasin became addicted to morphine while living as a refugee in Iran 12 years ago. "Once I was treated and stopped taking drugs, but when I became unemployed, I started (using) again," says Yasin, "When I can't find money to buy drugs, I take drugs from people who sell it and I then I sell it for them, so I get the drug for free. Sometime addicts also steal, from shops, houses and people, so they can find the money."
According to the government there are an estimated 3.5 million people addicted to drugs in Afghanistan, an opium-rich country and one of the biggest producers of narcotics in the world.
Activists say the government's campaign is a good way to help limit the production and smuggling of drugs across the country. It may also save some lives.