Female drug users’ number on the rise in Afghanistan
ANITA lifted the sky-blue burqa from her face, revealing glazed eyes and cracked lips from years of smoking opium, and touched her saggy belly, still round from giving birth to her seventh child a month ago.
“I can’t give breast milk to my baby,” said the 32-yearold Anita, who like other women interviewed for this story, declined to give her full name. “I’m scared he’ll get addicted.
She was huddled with other women at the UNfunded Nejat drug rehabilitation centre in the old quarter of Kabul, having sneaked out of her home to avoid being stopped by her husband from going outside alone.
With little funding and no access to substitution drugs such as methadone, treatment is rudimentary at Nejat for a problem that is growing in a dirt-poor country riven by conflicts for more than three decades.
Afghanistan is the source for more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, which is used to make heroin, and more of it is being grown than ever before.
While it is not uncommon to see men shooting up along the banks of the dried of up Kabul riverbed in broad daylight, women in the ultraconservative culture of Muslim Afghanistan are expected to stay out of public view for the most part. They often have to seek permission from a male relative or husband to leave their home, and when they do they are encased in the head-to-toe burqa.
“I am not allowed to leave home for medical checks.
What can I do? I am a woman,” Anita said matter of factly. Like many of Afghanistan’s female drug users, Anita picked up the habit from her husband.
Like other women interviewed for this story, Anita asked that only her first name be used. Shrouded in stigma, female drug users is a topic that is almost never mentioned in Afghanistan.
They agreed to tell their stories to a reporter only through an intermediary they trusted.
Opium poppy cultivation in a country that has been growing the plant for a thousand years increased 7 percent in 2011 from the year before, due to a spike in prices and worsening security, according to a survey sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, the farm-gate value of opium production more than doubled from 2010 to $1.4 billion and now accounts for 15 percent of the Afghan economy, the UNODC says.
Opiate consumption in Afghanistan, where it has long been a medication but in recent years has been used increasingly for recreation, is also on a sharp rise. The UNODC says Afghanistan has around one million heroin and opium addicts out of a population of 30 million, making it the world’s top user per capita.
No estimates are available on how many women are addicted to opium or heroin.
Nejat estimates around 60,000 women in Afghanistan regularly take illegal drugs, including hashish and marijuana.
“There has been a definite increase amongst women drug users over the last decade,” said Arman Raoufi, director of harm reduction for women at Nejat. Smoking opium costs around 200 Afghanis a day ($4), a very expensive habit in a country where a third live beneath the poverty line.