Opium addiction afflicts Afghanistan in wake of U.S. involvement

Eleven years later, the war in Afghanistan has had many damaging effects – not only on the economy of Afghanistan, but also on the everyday lives of civilians. The rise of opium addiction is just one side effect of this war that continues to grow.

The increase in opium and heroin in Afghan society is no accident; it has been perpetually intensified throughout 30 years of war, high unemployment and poverty. As the United States continues to fight in the longest war in American history, we have to question whether or not we are responsible for the growing number of opium addicts, which include men, women and, in many cases, children.

According to Voice of America news, 8 percent of Afghanistan’s population is suffering from opium addiction and has seen a 75 percent increase since 2005 alone. Opium is derived from the poppy crop of which Afghanistan is the largest producer, controlling 90 percent of the world’s opium. For many Afghans the drug is pure and cheap, half a gram costing the equivalent of four U.S. dollars.

Over a decade of warfare has led to insufficient medical and health care services in Afghanistan, pushing many women to use opium as a way to cure their families of sickness. Government interference to help control the epidemic has been met with little help.

In the past ten years both the Taliban and government elitists supported the role of opium in flourishing the country’s economy. By 2006, Afghanistan produced 94 percent of opium exports at an estimated cost of $4 billion, which is the same as about half of the country’s GDP.

Aside from the corruption that plagues Afghanistan’s government, the role opium addiction plays in the society of the Afghan people is even more disturbing. One of the most devastating effects to come from the rise in opium addiction is the abuse among women and children. It is not uncommon for whole families to become addicted to the drug, with many mothers giving children as young as two years old opium to ease pain or cure infections.

According to Deputy Chief of U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Robert Watkins, “Eight percent, mostly young [and] mostly male, are affected by this problem, and as we also learned, very much running inside families. Parents who don’t have means to provide medicine for their children will use narcotics as a way of softening the pain.”

Because many poor villages don’t have hospitals or even doctors to turn to, many use these cheap narcotics to ease both the physical and psychological traumas of living in a war-ridden country. Medicinal use of opium quickly turns to a recreational habit creating a vicious cycle – leading to an all-out addiction.

The longevity of this war has taken a toll on, not just the American people, but the lives of average Afghans as well. With warfare still continuing in many Afghan civilians’ backyards, I think it’s important to question whether or not Americans are partly to blame for the social turmoil brought on by the Afghanistan war.