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Rehabilitation of addicts: A long road ahead

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By Farhad Naibkhel-KABUL: The Public Health Ministry has collected hundreds of drug addicts. The health ministry wants to rehabilitate them so they could realize what a healthy life means. They story of these drug users have begun from under bridge and on the street life. They were haunted by the nightmares during the cold weather. Now they are coping with the nightmares in the old US forces complex, “Camp Phoenix”. The camp has been turned into a full-fledge rehabilitation center.

Addicts are the most vulnerable segment of the Afghan society. They spend their entire life in miserable condition, until brought for rehabilitation. They live under the bridges and on streets without having any facility to keep themselves warm in winter and cool in summer. They sat under the scorching sun in summer and coped with the heavy rains because they were out of their senses. They had no access to any social service, even to clean water and healthy food. However, the number of drug addicts brought for rehabilitation is not more than a pinch of salt.

Most of addicts are still have affairs with the ghost of drug. The short euphoria or kick has pushed them away from realities and families. Besides drug addiction, most of them are suffering from different diseases and infections that are leading to their death.

Some of the narcotics users are infected by HIV/AIDS—a disease that leaves no one alive. Almost all seasons are full of threat for the addicted people living on the street but winter is life-threatening for them.

Every night hundreds of homeless addicts sleep in shadow of nightmares on the street and under bridges, particularly in the western part of Kabul city. Pul-e-Sukhta is considered a hub of the addicts where the poisonous fume of heroine brings them together.

During winter season one or two dead bodies of addicted people, who passed away due to cold weather, are daily transferred by police in the morning from Pul-e-Sukhta area.

Luckily, the rehabilitation center is a ray of hope for the addicts. They are afraid now of coming to the center but one day they will realize that how it changed their life. They will wish that if they had earlier for treatment they would have utilized their time in appropriate manner to keep the family bond strong.

“I had a tired life, full of problems, when shifted to this center for treatment,” said Nasim, 28-year old addict. Nasim was shifted to the 1,500 bed treatment center in Kabul recently.

He told Afghanistan Times that no one considers addicts human. “We were not feeling safe even in the street and under the bridge. People were look at us with contempt.”

Narrating his ordeal, he said that addicts like him had no access to healthy food and potable water. Addicts have no place to keep warm in winter. Drug users were sleeping under the bridges or on footpaths, sometimes in front of shops, Nasim recalled.

“For the last four years I was using heroin. My addicted friends were the reason behind my addiction. Before addiction I had a shop. After becoming addicted I used my income and assets to buy heroin. A stage in my life came when my shop was empty and left nothing to sell. Ultimately, I closed the shop,” he remembered.

He elaborated that after closing the shop he has no place at home. “My family did not accept me because I was an addict. So I found my place on streets and under the Pul-e-Sukhta Bridge.”

Now Nasim accepts that narcotics ruin life. “Using drug is a satanic habit. A drug user will find money through satanic ways to purchase heroin,” he sighed as he was sentenced to death but he was pardoned.

“I am happy to quite up addiction after treatment and become a normal person in the society,” Nasim vowed. His eyes were confirming that he had understood the reality that life is too precious and should not be wasted in smokes.

After treatment the government had to provide jobs to the rehabilitated addicts; otherwise, they would run again towards drug, he suggested.

Esmat, another drug user in the rehabilitation center, said that he was in love but failed to tie know with her. To run from the reality, he embraced opium. However, addiction was in his blood before that because he was using hashish. For the past two years he was using opium.

Voicing his pleasure over good manners of doctors and nurses in the center, he said the addicts had access to all facilities including bed, bathroom, medicines, healthy food and water. He said that the government must arrest drug sellers who are running lives of the people.

He said that the drug sellers have link with some security officials, thus they sell drug to addicted people without any fear.

During his visit to rehabilitation center, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah urged Ministry of Interior (MoI) to increase crackdowns against the drug mafia in the country.

He said: “Considering complaints of the addicts regarding the narcotics sellers I direct the interior ministry to accelerate operations against them [drug mafia] throughout the country. If serious action was not taken against the drug sellers, the campaign to rehabilitate the addicts will not be successful.”

Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz said that last month 700 addicted people were collected from Kabul city and shifted to the newly established treatment center.

He said that the ministry in coordination with Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MoCN) and other relevant organizations started the campaign to collect the addicted people in Kabul. The minister furthered that the campaign will continue.

Feroz said that efforts are underway to shift 800 more addicts to the treatment center in the near future. In addition to treatment, the rehabilitated people will get vocational and educational training in the center, he mentioned.

This was one side of the picture—bright and promising. However, the other side is dark and challenging. The number of drug addicts is still on the rise, day by day. A visit to Pul-e-Sukhta and other areas validate this fear. According to a report, three million Afghans are using drugs.

Scores of them are begging. Several others are daily wagers. Some of the addicts are involved in smuggling and stealing to afford their addiction.

The government had run such campaigns in the past too. But the success rate was disheartening. It is too early to predict the outcome of the current campaign.