Data from 2015 showed that Afghanistan already had around three million drug addicts - a huge part of its 37 million strong population.

In this photograph taken on November 13, 2019, drug addicts stand in line before having their lunch at a drug treatment centre in Kabul, as part of a compulsory detox programme launched by the government.
In this photograph taken on November 13, 2019, drug addicts stand in line before having their lunch at a drug treatment centre in Kabul, as part of a compulsory detox programme launched by the government. (AFP)

Dozens of dazed-looking drug addicts arrested on the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul, wait in the queue at a sprawling rehabilitation centre on the city’s outskirts.

The building houses Afghanistan’s largest addiction treatment facility, called Ibn Sina, and currently houses around 900 men. 

The newcomers are ready to enrol on a 45-day mandatory detox programme to recover from a new kind of addiction, a first in what is already considered a leading narco-state: methamphetamine. 

Almost unheard of in Afghanistan until a few years ago, meth's sudden appearance is another challenge for authorities in a country already suffering from a drug crisis involving opium and heroin addiction. 

"Today, around 70 percent of patients here are addicted to meth," Abdul Jabar Jalili, Ibn Sina's chief physician and counsellor, said.

The physical impact of the drug, known locally as ‘shisha’, or glass, is visible: the sunken eyes and hollow cheeks of Afghan addicts in the queue mirror an image of meth addiction familiar to many in Western nations.

Data from 2015 shows Afghanistan had about three million drug addicts in total, a huge proportion of the country's estimated 37 million people.

Experts say the number has risen since 2015, and the proportion of addicts using meth could be as high as about 40 percent.

But just a few years ago, meth was practically non-existent in Afghanistan. 

The first meth seizure was reported in southern Helmand province in 2008 - a meagre amount of a few grammes, according to Afghan counter-narcotic officials.

Fast forward to this year, in the first 10 months of 2019, and a massive 935 kilos had been seized, said Kabir Ibrahimkhail, a senior counter-narcotics officer.

"At the rate it is increasing, it will not be a surprise if it soon replaces opium in Afghanistan," the officer said. 

That would be hugely significant in a country that grows roughly 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, and raises the question of whether Afghan meth could end up following the same international trafficking routes.

In this photograph taken on November 13, 2019, a drug addict looks on as he eats his lunch at a drug treatment centre in Kabul, as part of a compulsory detox programme launched by the government.
In this photograph taken on November 13, 2019, a drug addict looks on as he eats his lunch at a drug treatment centre in Kabul, as part of a compulsory detox programme launched by the government. (AFP)

Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer with growth of the narcotic covering 263,000 hectares of land in 2018. It was the second-largest recorded harvest, despite a devastating drought.

As drugs are exported to different corners of the world, like Saudi Arabia and Canada, domestic consumption rises as well.  

The number of heroin and opium addicts was estimated at nearly 2.4 million in 2015. 

Almost 10 percent of women use illicit drugs according to the 2015 UN report. 

Moreover, the report showed that 9.2 percent of children up to 14 years old had been tested positive for at least one type of drug. 

The country’s armed groups and warlords are also stakeholders in the production and marketing of the drugs. 

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opium production provided about half of the Taliban's revenues in 2016.

The Taliban, which once banned drug production when it took over Afghanistan, now wields significant control of the war-torn country’s narcotics production line, providing insurgents with billions of dollars. 

Even before the Taliban’s involvement in the market, drugs have played a role in the country’s recent political history. 

For nearly four decades, which have included the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, the civil war in 1990s and18 years of US occupation, unlawfulness has become the default form of governance in the country. 

And amid the endless circle of conflict, illicit drugs dominated the economy, fuelled insurgency, becoming a bargaining chip in politics.

Although, the US has spent about $9 billion on the war against drugs since 2001, the Taliban still operates drug labs across the country. So do tribal leaders who use the trade to consolidate their social and political power. 

Back at the Ibn Sina treatment centre in Kabul, 25-year-old Sulaiman, one of the men arriving at the treatment centre, said: "My life has been ruined by addiction.

"I would do whatever it takes to get the drug, from labouring to stealing," he added. 

But Ibn Sina director Zalmai Naurozi takes a firm stance in his war against drugs. 

He said: "We will have to work harder to save our people.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies