even dogs are addicted to drugs

Kabul, Afghanistan.- Hundreds of men, high on heroin, opium and methamphetamine, were scattered on a hillside overlooking Kabul, some in tents, others lying on the ground. The dogs were around because sometimes they get drugs, and there were corpses of dogs with overdoses among the garbage. Here too men slip, silent and alone, down the line from oblivion and despair to death.

“There’s a dead man next to you,” someone told me as I made my way through them, taking photos. “We buried someone there before,” said another below.

A man lay face down in the mud, motionless. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was alive. He turned his head slightly, barely half out of the mud, and whispered yes.

“You’re dying,” I told him. “Try to survive.” “Okay,” she said, her voice exhausted. “It’s okay to die.”

He raised his body a little. I gave him some water and someone gave him one glass pipe with heroin. Smoking it gave him some energy. She said her name was Dawood. He had lost a leg to a mine a decade ago during the war; after that he couldn’t work, and his life fell apart. He turned to drugs to escape.

The drug addiction It’s been a problem for a long time Afghanistanthe world’s largest producer of opium and heroin and now a major source of methamphetamine. The ranks of addicts have been fueled by persistent poverty and decades of warfare that left few families unhealed.

The situation appears to have only worsened since the country’s economy collapsed following the Taliban’s seizure of power in August last year and the ensuing cessation of international funding. Families that were previously able to get by have been deprived of their livelihoods, leaving many barely able to afford to eat. Millions of people have joined the ranks of the impoverished.

The growing number of addicts are found around Kabul, living in parks and drains, under bridges, on open hillsides. Dogs wander lost, under the influence of drugs.

A 2015 UN survey estimated that as many as 2.3 million people had used drugs that year, which would have been around 5% of the population at the time. Now, seven years later, the number is unknown, but it is believed to have only increased, said the head of the Department of Drug Demand Reduction, Dr. Zalmel, who like many Afghans only goes by one name.

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The Taliban, who took power almost a year ago, have launched an aggressive campaign to eradicate poppy cultivation. At the same time, they have inherited the internationally supported policy of the ousted government of rounding up addicts and forcing them into camps.

On two nights this summer, Taliban fighters raided two areas where addicts hang out: one on the hillside and one under a bridge. In all, they gathered about 1,500 peopleaccording to the officials in charge of registering them. They were put into trucks and cars and taken to the Avicenna Drug Treatment Medical Hospital, a former US military base that in 2016 was converted into a drug treatment center.

It is the largest of a series of drug treatment camps around Kabul. There, the addicts are shaved and kept in barracks for 45 days. They do not receive any treatment or medication while they go through the abstinence syndrome. Since the Taliban took power, the international funding the Afghan government relied on has been cut off, leaving the camp with barely enough funds to feed its inpatients.

But the camps do little to end addiction.

A week after the raids, I went back to both places, and both were again packed with hundreds of people.

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On the hillside, I saw a man who was clearly not an addict. In the dark, he wandered among the men, shining a dim flashlight on each one. He was looking for his brother, who became addicted years ago and left home. He goes from one place to another, through the underworld of Kabul. “I hope I can find it one day,” he says.

At the site under the bridge, the stench of sewage and garbage was overwhelming. One man, Nazer, in his 30s, seemed to be respected among his fellow addicts; broke up fights between them and negotiated disputes.

He told me that he spends most of his days here, under the bridge, but that he goes home from time to time. The addiction has spread throughout her family, she said.

When I expressed my surprise that the lair under the bridge had filled again, Nazir smiled. “It’s normal,” he said. “Every day there are more… it never ends.”

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vare / rcr