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Afghanistan's soaring drug trade hits home

It faces one of the world's fastest rising rates of drug use.

(Page 2 of 2)

For Nasir and his friends, the lack of state funds – Kabul has only one state-funded treatment clinic – and an unstable economy offer little hope. "I want to stop using," says Nasir. "But we need help from the government. We need a place to sleep, and we need a hospital."

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Just down the road, hidden in a muddy alley off the highway, the Nejat Center is trying to provide just that. In a tiny room on the center's second floor sit about a dozen men, bone-thin from years of heroin use and with heads cleanly shaven as a mark of their patient status.

Rachman Farouk started using when he was in Iran. "By the time I came back to Kabul, I was addicted," he says. "After seeing my children suffer, I knew that I had to get better, so I came here."

"We take people in from the streets, give them a hot shower, new clothes, and cup of tea," says Tariq Suliman, the center's director.

The staff gives a three-week course to all patients on drug awareness, teaching patients the root causes of addiction and coaxing them to confront their problem. In the subsequent two weeks, doctors administer treatments, and the staff assigns a social worker to follow up with every successful case for up to one year.

Dr. Suliman founded the Nejat Center in Pakistan in 1991, after witnessing the effects of drug addiction on Afghan refugees there. He helped establish the center in Kabul following the fall of the Taliban.

While the Nejat Center is a boon to those who come, a dearth of funds and clinics means very few of Kabul's addicts get help. "We only have twenty beds," says Suliman. "Most people who come here for treatment have to sleep in the street or at the mosque. Only about 100 of Kabul's 50,000 addiction cases are receiving treatment."

Like many other clinics in the country, Nejat relies on foreign donors. Although some funds come through US-government related programs, Washington's supply-side reduction policy – pressing the Afghan government to spray opium fields and coaxing farmers to plant alternative crops – means that nonprofits and the UN bear the brunt of funding Kabul's clinics.

But without more government support, extensive treatment programs are difficult.

With few job prospects in this war-torn nation, experts worry that the underlying causes of addiction are going untreated.

This is a top concern of Ibrahim Mankhel, a graduate of Nejat's program after 12 years of drug abuse. "I now have a family. I have three children so I need a job to support them," he says. "I just hope there are jobs available."