A two-year pilot study by the INL on drug addiction and household toxicity in Afghanistan found that babies as young as nine months were testing positive for narcotics, says Thom Browne, deputy director of the INL’s anticrime programs. It also found that in many cases, the level of toxicity in young children was several times higher than that in adult heroin users. The study, which looked at 30 households in three provinces, will be expanded to cover 2,000 households in 22 provinces next year.
While other countries also face cases of babies born with addiction, in Afghanistan the problem deepens as parents continue to administer drugs to their children. According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), up to half of drug users surveyed gave their children opium. The INL found in their study of Afghan drug users’ homes significant samples of opium in the air, bedding, eating utensils, toys, and other items that children come into contact with.
Treating drug addiction is not easy anywhere, but is especially difficult in Afghanistan because of social and cultural stigmas against females going outside the home. Many families are reluctant to let women come and stay at Sanga Amaj for the 45-day treatment period, let alone the preferred 90-day period, says Latifa Hamidi, the doctor who oversees the clinic. Even surveying women proved near impossible – they constituted only 3 percent of the UNODC’s sample size.
Even more helpful would be treat the entire family, says Gilberto Gerra, the UNODC’s chief of drug prevention. Otherwise, “if a woman goes back to a home where her husband is using drugs, the risk of relapse is very high.”