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Sharp Rise Reported In Drug Addiction Among Afghan Women

Police inspect piles of heroin discovered during an operation in Herat, Afghanistan
KABUL -- Drug addiction among women in Afghanistan is rising dramatically, according to a survey conducted by the Afghan government in coordination with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

Afghanistan's Deputy Counter-Narcotics Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar estimates that at least 1 million Afghans, including a large number of women and children, are addicted to heroin.

In addition, he told Radio Free Afghanistan, tens of thousands more are reportedly addicted to alcohol or other illegal drugs derived from opium poppies.

Among the factors that drive women to illegal drugs, Azhar listed war, poverty, and economic and social pressures -- including forced marriages.

One woman told RFA on condition of anonymity that she turned to heroin because her husband refused her medical care.

"I was ill for a long time," she said. "My husband didn't care. He didn't bother to take me to a hospital. I went to a local man to get a powder to kill the pain. I only found out later that it was morphine, but by then I was addicted to it. That led to me taking heroin. I am so ashamed of that. Every one in the family and the local community who knows I am addicted hates me. I want to get rid of this shame as soon as possible."

Afghanistan's Health Ministry says there are several facilities that offer counseling and free treatment for drug addicts across the country, but only a relatively small number of women seek treatment for neurotic disorders and drug addiction.

According to Latifa, a doctor at the Sanga Amaj medical center in Kabul, it is very difficult to persuade drug addicts, especially women, to undergo treatment at a medical center. She explains that drug addiction is a terrible stigma for a woman in Afghanistan's conservative Islamic society, causing many women to conceal their addiction. It is also prohibited by Islam, leading many addicts to hide their problem to avoid the shame of being branded as sinners.