In the U.S., the War in Afghanistan is among the major contributing factors to the country’s devastating heroin epidemic.
Over 10,000 people in America died of heroin-related overdoses in 2014 alone– an epidemic fuelled partly by the low cost and availability of one of the world’s most addictive, and most deadly, drugs.
Despite our promises to eradicate the black market, the U.S. actually enables the illegal drug trade.
As journalist Abby Martin writes, the U.S. government has had a long history of facilitating the global drug trade: In the 1950s, it allowed opium to be moved, processed and trafficked throughout the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia while it trained Taiwanese troops to fight Communist China.
In the 80s, the CIA provided logistical and financial support to anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua who were also known international drug traffickers.
The DEA got the boot from the Bolivian government in 2008, cocaine production in that country has steadily fallen year after year.
And in 2012, a Mexican government official claimed that rather than fighting drug traffickers, the CIA and other international security forces are actually trying to
“manage the drug trade.”
“It’s like pest control companies, they only control,”
Guillermo Terrazas Villanueva, the Chihuahua spokesman,told Al Jazeera.
“If you finish off the pests, you are out of a job.
If they finish the drug business, they finish their jobs.”
While there is no conclusive proof that the CIA is physically running opium out of Afghanistan, Martin notes:
“It’s hard to believe that a region under full US military occupation – with guard posts and surveillance drones monitoring the mountains of Tora Bora – aren’t able to track supply routes of opium exported from the country’s various poppy farms (you know, the ones the US military are guarding).”
Ironically, it was the U.S. mission to obliterate the Taliban in the “War on Terror” that turned Afghanistan into a “narco state.”
In the summer of 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announced a total ban on the cultivation of opium poppy, the plant from which heroin is made.
Those caught planting poppies in Taliban-controlled parts of the country were beaten and marched through villages with motor oil on their faces.
The Taliban actually offered subsidies to farmers to grow food crops not drugs.
That year, as Matthieu Aikins reported for Rolling Stone in 2012,
“Opium production fell from an estimated 3,276 tons in 2000 to 185 tons in 2001.”
But then 9/11 hit and the Bush administration pushed into Afghanistan once again, carrying the banner of the “War on Terror.”
“When the Taliban fled or went into hiding, the farmers lost their financial support to grow food, and returned to growing heroin, a crop that thrives in regions of Afghanistan,”
as Dr. Steven Kassels noted in a 2015 piece for Social Justice Solutions.
Seeking a “light footprint” in Afghanistan, the U.S. and our allies teamed up with what Aikins describes as
“Within six months of the U.S. invasion, the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.”
The War in Afghanistan saw the country’s practically dead opium industry expanded dramatically.
By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000.
By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy.
And heroin use is up across the entire population.
Age, sex, race, income, location — it doesn’t matter. And, as the CDC notes,
“Some of the greatest increases occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just the U.S. suffering under the weight of a heroin addiction that’s hit epidemic proportions: Afghanistan, which has a long cultural tradition of smoking opium, is dealing not just with its status as a “narco state,” as Aikins described it, but also with the health and social ills stemming from increased heroin use.