Silent Death of Afghan Addicts: Death Toll Rises in Winter

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With the arrival of winter and increasing cold weather in Herat, more than fourteen addicts have died in the province so far. Some drug addicts in Herat say they have taken refuge inside the city due to the cold weather and fear of losing their lives.

Ghulam Nabi, a resident of Qaisar in Faryab province, has been addicted for eight years. He says war, insecurity, poverty, and unemployment have drawn him to Iran, where he has been addicted to drugs for four years. This resident of Qaisar, who now spends his days and nights on the streets of Herat, considers drug addiction a disease that destroys human lives. He sometimes cries in memory of his three children and his wife, whom he has not seen for two months. He says he has now run out of money and no longer has any hope of reaching his children. Speaking to Hasht-e Subh, Gholam-Nabi said that he had been studying religious sciences during the previous Taliban era, but the situation has made this religious student addicted. Referring to the difficulties of the addiction period and the growing cold weather in the province, he said that several addicts have died in front of his eyes due to the cold weather.

The Ghulam Nabi is not the only one who spends his days and nights on the streets of Herat city. A little closer to these people, it can be seen that drugs have covered the whole existence of these people.

Mohammad Alokozai is over forty years old. His three girls, a boy, and a woman stay in Iran, and he has not heard from them for a long time after crossing the border. Although he mentions his family and children, Mohammad Alokozai says that more than that, he is concerned about finding drugs these days. “I used Hashish in the early days, but now I use Heroin and inject medicine,” Alokozai told Hasht-e Subh. “I find these with a lot of money. But now, as the weather cools, many are dying.”

Meanwhile, officials at Herat Central Hospital, expressed concern over the widespread presence of addicts inside the city of Herat, saying that due to the cold weather, the death toll is likely to increase. Ahmad Shah Mushfeq, a forensic specialist at Herat Central Hospital, told Hasht-e Subh that 14 deaths of drug addicts have been registered at the hospital so far. According to the forensic expert, the reduced resistance of these people, the extreme cold, and the lack of shelter in the coming winter have increased the possibility of increasing the death toll.

Taliban officials in Herat, however, say they have so far collected more than 100 drug addicts from the streets of Herat. The head of the Taliban government’s Information and Culture Department for Herat told Hasht-e Subh that a committee consisting of various government departments would work day and night on how to collect these people from across the city, moving them to a specific place for treatment in the coming days.

Herat is one of the provinces with a large number of drug addicts due to its border with Iran and the crossing of the border by drug addicts from this country. Taliban government officials do not have exact statistics on addicts in the province, but according to statistics from the previous government and addiction treatment agencies in the province, there are about 100,000 drug addicts, a small percentage of whom are children and women.

What Plans Does the Taliban Have for Drug Addicts?

With the rise of the Taliban, officials at drug treatment centers in Herat say that the process of providing services and treating addicts in these centers has dropped by nearly 50 percent. Officials at some addiction treatment centers told Hasht-e Subh that most food contracts and raw material aid for the treatment of addicts have now been suspended.

Dr. Navid, the chief physician at the 140-bed hospital for addicts in Herat, confirmed the problems, saying that although the presence of addicts in the city has increased, the process of providing services to male addicts has been suspended due to a lack of food and doctors.

Dr. Navid points out that after the recent upheaval and the formation of a Taliban government, only addicted women and children are now available for treatment. He points out that 50% of the services and facilities provided by the government for the treatment of drug addicts in these centers are not paid now. “The main issue is the lack of food and staff salaries that are not being paid for, and that has stopped since the Taliban came to power,” he added.

Every year, as the weather cools, the previous government intensified its collection and treatment programs for addicts in Herat. Officials in the Taliban-led government in Herat have not yet officially launched the program.

Firooz Ahmad Behzad, a civil activist in Herat, says that the continuation of this trend, along with the increase in the number of deaths of drug addicts, could affect the mental state of citizens, especially children. Speaking to Hasht-e Subh, Behzad said that the local Taliban administration for Herat province should take practical steps to prevent the increase in the number of addicts and also to reduce their death toll in winter. He believes that while implementing such programs can be costly, to prevent more victims of drug-addicted youth, the Taliban-led government will have to plan to collect and treat them.

Meanwhile, Naeema al-Haq Haqqani, the Taliban’s director of information and culture for Herat, acknowledged that the treatment sector had undergone serious changes, but expressed concern about the high number of addicts killed in the province.

“We are currently working with various departments to collect addicts, and then steps will be taken to transfer these people to a camp for treatment,” Mr. Haqqani told Hasht-e Subh.

Last year, about 110 drug addicts, including several women, died during winter in Herat. Although the Taliban have announced the start of a program to collect drug addicts in the cities, after nearly four months of their rule, the program has only been implemented in Herat province, once for a while. However, it is now feared that with the onset of winter cold, the lack of coherent plans by the Taliban-led government, and the reduction of health services, the death toll of drug addicts in the country will increase.