Add this to Afghanistan's list of daunting problems — it has the highest opium addiction rate in the world, reports Ian Pannell in BBC News. A new survey is expected to show that 1.5 million of the country's 30 million people are now hooked on the drug. With no doctors or medicines, many Afghans, especially in poor rural areas, opium is used as a catch-all treatment for ailing or aching men, women, children, "and even babies." The brown, sticky drug is used to ease "the pain... and the misery of life," and it provides a cash crop for the dirt-poor farmers who grow the poppies used to make it. But the opium trade also fuels crime, corruption, and the insurgency, as the Taliban collect a "tax" on opium in remote areas under their control. In many ways, opium addiction "is pulling apart an already fragile nation," Pannell says. An excerpt:
"Shasana had just come home from school. It was midday, and she crouched on the floor of her family's mud hut, waiting patiently for her lunch and her opium. Her small head, cloaked in a bright green scarf, ducked toward the floor. She put a long wooden pipe to her lips and sucked. The far end glowed and bubbled before her head disappeared in a haze of smoke.
At just 10 years old, Shasana is already an opium addict. Her mother is too. In fact, most of the people she knows in this windswept village are. They all live in a tiny cluster of mud buildings in the middle of the Turkmen desert in Afghanistan's far north...."