February 22nd, 2010
01:25 PM ET

Afghanistan's curse: Opium

With a loud "whoosh" and a blast of hot air, the pile of tires, wood and 2.5 tons of raw opium burst into flames. 

It's a government-sponsored "drug burn" in the western Afghan city of Herat, an event intended to reinforce the government’s claim that it is moving aggressively against the opium trade.

We flew early Sunday morning from Kabul to Herat to witness the event with Afghanistan's Deputy Minister for Combating Narcotics, Daoud Daoud.

The drug burn was dramatic, but the nearly 5,000 pounds of opium is just a tiny fraction of the 6,900 tons  - or nearly 14 million pounds - produced last year in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The acreage planted with opium has reportedly decreased over the last two years, but productivity per acre has increased.

Daoud told me he has similar "drug burns" planned, one next week in Kabul with 7 tons of opium, another the following week in Nangahar Province.

Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, much of which is processed into heroin. Earnings from opium make up about a third of the country’s gross domestic product. It is a major source of income to the Taliban, who levy a 10 percent tax on its production.  Various warlords and government officials are involved in the opium trade.  Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in the opium trade.

If you want to see the devastating impact of opium on Afghan society, just go to Kabul’s main stadium any day of the week. There, you’ll find dozens of men and teenagers, huddled against the wall, inhaling opium fumes or shooting up heroin. The ground is strewn with used needles.

There I met Shafiqallah, a man in his 30s - although he looked 20 years older - who has been addicted to opium for the last six years.  He works when he can as an air conditioner repairman, but hasn’t had any work lately.  He told me he begs for the money to pay for his $4-a-day habit, plus feed his wife and six children. In Afghanistan, the average daily per capita income is less than $2. Shafiqallah said underwent treatment late last year to overcome his addiction, but it clearly didn’t work.

The number of opium addicts in Afghanistan has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2005 it was estimated that there were 900,000 addicts in the country. Three years later that number had jumped to 1.5 million.

It's not clear why the number of heroin addicts has spiked in recent years, but Afghan officials are hoping their efforts to eradicate opium through these organized "burns" will help curb the use of the drug - as well as cut funding for the Taliban.

soundoff (152 Responses)
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    March 23, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. Car Equalizers ·

    most modern air conditioners are not guzzlers of electricity and are energy star certified .

    November 7, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Carpet Extractor 

    air conditioners are really needed specially if you have people with respiratory problems.-.

    October 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Frank

    It's not about the drugs it's about improving the lives of the Afghan people. Improving governance, rule of law, and providing sustainable alternatives to opium are key to re-connecting the Afghans to credible institutions and reducing their dependence on illegal drugs.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Connie Coburg

    "It's not clear why the number of heroin addicts has spiked in recent years". iIremember watching a doco on Bin Laden and the basic content was that he was opposed to Drugs in Afganistan. Perhaps he is dead, or just no longer cares! if he ever wanted to ruin the USA, then all he'd have do is flood the market with cheap opium.

    March 6, 2010 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. guest to cnn

    So they dug and they burned and they dug and they burned, and then they just drove away. We just smiled and waived, sitting on those sacks of seeds.

    February 27, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jagjit Singh Mukandpuri

    Drug becomes medican, if it is in proper and useful hands otherwise medican becomes drug in wrong hands. So it depends upon the hands. But our motive should be drug free society in the world and cooperation of all. Your name should be in the list of those who put off fire not on fire.

    February 27, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. aaron

    We should send ollie north over there hes got good connections with the iranians he could sell them some heroin and then maybe buy arms for some somalian pirates or somethin.

    February 26, 2010 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. JEsk

    if there is a will there is away .
    those Poppy fields don't move and cant be hidden if you want you can destroy it.
    and for the record here in Iran 70 years ago we stand up and destroyed all the Poppy Fields here so today you cant find even 1square meter of those fields here . in Thailand they managed to stop those fields and in may other countries.
    and to be honest it's more profitable to plant other corps in those fields . in the exact same terrain that afghans produce opium in Iran we Produce Saffron then tell me which one is more profitable.

    February 24, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. barbadine

    if i read well between the lines and being a very simpleminded person, that means the military supports the opium crops, explanation : fighting the talibans means they are busy in some place and can't look after the other places where the opium grows, and giving money to karsai means giving money to these so-called "chiefs of war" who are the real boss cause they can make money with opium and kill their ennemies : and who would they be these ennemies ; right the ones who burned the crops so the good ones so us, like in a circle, no escape we are trapped

    February 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. daimanju

    you do not want to wipe out the entire poppy crop because hospitals all over the world are users.
    Bellevue, wa

    February 23, 2010 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. daimanju

    my heart bleeds for these growers, two dollars a day inxome and on and on and on...........oh snore.

    in the philippines some 20 years ago, many poor little kids were garbage dump pickers. 20 years ago, it was a real prize to find a plastic coke bottle. now, they wont even touch one unless it has a cap on it.

    now that is the kind of progress that the poppy growers would love.

    Bellevue, wa

    February 23, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Eric M.

    Not that I support one side or the other, but all Americans should be aware that Poppy production increased by 4000% since the 2001 Invasion. The Afghan government is loaded with warlords and criminals from Afgahans past, and some of them are growing more and more poppy to support their power in Afghanistan. Sure, the propaganda will tell you that they are destroying crops, but what they don't mention is that they are growing more poppy on less land; and in some cases they are growing other drugs like marijuana instead.
    Afghanistan will never be a free and truly democratic country unless all the criminals are removed from the government, and in their place people who will truly work for the people of Afghanistan. People are still being controled by these warlords, and women are treated like animals. These men who surpress women in that country know that if women were ever to be given equal rights in their country, that they would lose power to their grasp of corruption and abuse to the population of the country; and it starts right from the top of the U.S installed government of Hamid Karzai.
    Shame on us and our new President in whom I put my faith.

    February 23, 2010 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  16. Kelv

    Simple Logic, 5years back 1 kilo of heroin was worth more than what its worth today, so how can they make it more valuable again, simply limit the supply as the demands cant be limited.
    Instant hike in price, more money to the organization–of course you know your selves

    February 23, 2010 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  17. Frank Rizo

    The US in Afgan to fight the AQ/TB due to 911, now were Policing the nation for drugs, this why we need to bring the troops home. The War is BS and all who support it.

    February 23, 2010 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
  18. John

    I agree with Brandy, too. Very sad situation. May God help these poor Afghans and also protect our soldiers there.

    February 23, 2010 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
  19. Breetai

    Nice Propaganda piece. Why don't you just replay reefer madness at least it's about as believable and more entertaining.

    Ya want to reduce drug use? Grow the middle class. The Drug Wars are and always were only about Grabbing other peoples stuff.

    If we we're smart we'd of learned from History end this 2nd round of prohibition. Because we're like slaves rather than acting like citizens empowering our government we're acting like surfs and doing as we're told.

    February 23, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  20. Faith De'Leor

    BB .. What does the CIA have to do with this?

    February 23, 2010 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  21. Alex

    @BarryC: Actually, it would be dumb for a professional journalist to state something as fact if/when he does not have any proof. If you have a study that proves causality between the war and the rise in Afghan opium use, then fine. But if you don't, don't blame the author for stating that "it's not clear" when it really isn't. Even if seems obvious, it hasn't been proven (or, the author is not familiar with such a study).

    February 23, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  22. question

    The Afghan drug problem is an American and European problem. We are the primary users of illegal narcotics on this planet. Until the insatiable demand of our countrymen is quelled we will continue to lose the war on drugs and doom other foreign countries to spates of violence. (Mexico, Columbia, Afghanistan, Brazil, etc) Drug addicts and I believe most American's do not see the big picture. To all the people that do a little cocaine, heroin, or marijuana you are in part responsible for the bloodshed/murders of peoples in other countries and our own. You give these people the money to buy guns, corrupt governments, and terrorize innocent people. The profits from these drugs are also used to kill our soldiers in foreign countries and help jihadists continue their wars. Until the profit is taken out of the drug trade (by legalizing drugs it will hurt the trade), we set up proper rehab centers in prisons (which will never happen because it is bad for the prison business), or we finally curb our demand for drugs (parents and schools open your damn eyes) we will continue to be one of the root causes of poverty, violence, and terrorism across the globe.

    February 23, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  23. Logan Couturier

    Are they serious???!!!

    "It's not clear why the number of heroin addicts has spiked in recent years"

    What? If I lived in a war torn country struggling for any means of normalcy and working for less than 2 dollars a day on any given day then I would absolutely use whatever means necessary to alter my conscious reality. What is wrong with letting these people have one little thing to help make the pain that is their lives go away? Who cares if its illegal. Give them a damn break.

    February 23, 2010 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  24. Devis Sri lanka

    prayer has been answered !May God bless the people and Afganistan Government and all the forces who work hard to remove opium. All of these people who earned money from Opium may have a legal business to come up in their lives.!!!May God bless them as they leave opium trade. May God multiple his blessings to innocent civilian in Afganistan and save their lives during this battle against terrorists.

    February 23, 2010 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  25. Ajab

    well it is true Afghanistan provide 90 percent of Opium around the wolrd but who buys the drugs and why the goverments the wolrd dont take steps to stop thier kids to not use drugs

    February 23, 2010 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  26. Jason from Wisconsin

    Why is the Heroin spiking?

    The Taliban outlawed it, (about the only good thing they did). Now that they dont kill you because you're using it why not try it to get away from the 30 years of war you've lived with. There's no work, no work you cant eat, When using Heroin or opium you dont get hungry another reason to use it. But soon enough you get hooked so now that's only thing you think about "I need to get my next fix"!

    Just sad!

    February 23, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  27. A. Smith, Oregon

    There is a ZERO upside for the Earth to be flooded with Heroin from Afghanistan's vast Opium Poppy fields. It places an incredible strain on rural and metro-city's that are forced to struggle with the resulting theft, burglary's, violence and armed robbery's that spike with heroin addicts much less the health care and costs for incarceration.

    There are thousands of heroin addicts languishing in the American's vast prison system alone, each prisoner costs taxpayers some 75,000 tax dollars per year to keep them behind bars. The costs for adequate police and citizens lost thru theft, burglary and armed robbery's rapidly strain the declining tax revenues on States that are already close to bankruptcy.

    Only 5% of the Opium produced in Afghanistan would supply the entire world's current legal use of Morphine. The rest (well over 90%) goes to the illegal drug trafficking of processed Heroin.

    Up until the Russian troops left Afghanistan, Government Accounting Office records indicate American Taxpayers were paying for trucks used by the Taliban to move Opium out of Afghanistan. Likely the same Opium that was processed into Heroin which sent thousands of Heroin addicts into a life in America's vast prisons.

    Why would the CIA tell the Allied and American Commanders in Afghanistan 'Hands off the Poppy Fields', if it were not directly protecting them?

    NO self respecting Military Commander would allow his men to get their legs blown off walking thru a poppy field rather than call in a air-strike or order his ground troops to blow up the poppy fields along with all of the hidden IED's in them unless ordered to do so.

    Why would the CIA protect the Opium-Heroin trade in Afghanistan given the above grave losses of American and Allied Soldiers lives and the strain that places around the world?

    Everyone agrees the huge amounts of money generated by the Opium-Heroin trafficking supply the Taliban with enormous amounts of cash they use for new weapons and explosives and also for sizable bribes to various Govt. officials and clansmen.

    Everyone agrees the huge amounts of Heroin flooding the world forces police departments to be fully staffed and diligently focused on dealing with the resulting spike in violence, theft, burglary and armed robbery's that result from heroin addiction.

    Everyone agrees that cheap cheese heroin flooding America's grade school is by far a greater threat to America's future than childhood obesity and their love for pepsi's.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Ben


    The Taliban, at least, ended the Opium trade. However, Afghani Hashish is literally the BEST in the world, anyone who's tried will swear to.

    Then the fake "War on Terror"...

    Massive Pot burnings, that's come to a near halt. But Opium back to pre-Taliban levels and expanding, most going to USA and UK...

    February 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Will H.

    Legalize Heroin

    The reason they keep growing Opium is because it makes them far more money than food crops.

    It's a cold and harsh thing to say, but you choose whether or not you do heroin. I'd rather see a bunch of twits OD on cheap heroin than people continually fighting and killing each other for the production rights of Opium.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Lorenz

    What a crock!!! This is simply a display by the U.S. government to show the world that they are trying to eradicate the opium trade where the fact is that the U.S. is over their stealing the opium and lining the governments CEO's pockets with millions of dollars. The CIA and U.S. government are profiting on the opium trade. Anyone who thinks the U.S. is in Afghanistan for any other reason but to control the drug trade is a complete fool. War on drugs??? What a joke. The war on drugs will be lost just like the war against the taliban is all ready lost. Wake up people.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  31. SBTIM

    The best way to put Afghanistan out of the opium business?


    This stupid war on drugs costs us so much money it's not worth it. All that you accomplish is funding criminal organizations. I'd rather simply legalize it and let it be grown and sold in the U.S.A. so that way we could regulate it and tax it, and the money wouldn't go to funding gangs and terrorists. The people of Afghanistan would then be free to grow food and such for themselves.

    No matter how bad heroin is, it's better to just let people buy it legally. The harder we try to eliminate it, which will never happen, the more everybody, including non-users suffer.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Chris

    Afghan heroin is consumed in Europe, Iran and other Asian countries, not the United States. Our opium comes from Latin America. So we are not at war with Afghanistan for opium, at least not to combat the illicit market there. But controlling a country in central Asia, right near China, Russia and Iran (the biggest direct and growing threats to US superpower), is in the US best interests. Particularly considering how cheating China and oil-rich and economically ingenious Iran and Russia have made huge gains against US interests in the past 20 years, we need a power post in the region.

    So everyone against the wars should think about what happens to quality of life in America as these three powers take hold of traditional US interests and markets. The banking and business elites that all the American communists lament are actually the driving force of our economy, our job market, and allow us to spend our Monday night commenting on CNN articles at warp-internet speed, in our gas and oil heated homes, while our $20k cars sit in the driveway waiting to burn the developing world's natural resources into the environment. Don't forget your LCD HDTV, name brand clothing, $40k/year college education, iPhone and Blackberry.

    CNN articles misconstrue and omit the facts, but it seems you all agree this is smart policy to help reform Afghanistan, help end poverty there, and "bring our troops home." In reality, we caused this epidemic. The Taliban nearly eradicated opium production in Afghanistan just by simply imposing a government ban. Our invasion and destruction of opium crops after the invasion caused massive economic calamity and has resulted in even more farmers turning to opium production to make a living.

    For those who think you can just provide farmers with alternative crops, that policy has been attempted for over 100 years and is ineffective. You can't just grow anything in Afghanistan, Colombia, and other illicit drug producing countries, first of all, and then expect what is grown to be turned around and profitable on the open market, especially when US and European farming interests run the show. Ask France for a comment on that one.

    Oh and this 2.5 tons they refer to represents .007% of the total amount produced annually in Afghanistan. Great Job! Lame.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Shap

    If you legalize the drugs, you take the profits out of the hands of the Taliban. We can't do much with the War on Drugs in our own country and we're going to fight theirs? GREAT IDEA. Isn't it great that our soldiers are dying to fight what is another country's failed war against plants?

    February 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Smokey

    UN officials say as much as 8000 tonnes of opium is missing from the calculated worldwide supply, and presumed to be stockpiled, perhaps by the taliban or international drug smugglers. That's more than three billion dollars' worth of opium and enough to supply the global heroin trade for two years, even if no more opium at all was grown during that time.


    February 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Woody

    The sad thing is young Americans have to die for something that no one can do anything about. Kids today sniff glue ,paint, house hold cleaners. Then there is beer wine, whisky made here legally here in the good old U.S.A. People in this country try their best to hide people from reality. Meth today is all over the place in the U.S. Did someone say that Opium is the problem ?

    February 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Eric

    "If you want to see the devastating impact of opium on Afghan society, just go to Kabul’s main stadium any day of the week. There, you’ll find dozens of men and teenagers, huddled against the wall, inhaling opium fumes or shooting up heroin."

    SO WHAT?? Is that all you got?? I would love to take you to a dozen places all over LA, including essentially any UC campus so you can meet the HUNDREDS of Meth addicted students at each one. I went to highschool in the country side in South Carolina and I knew 20 people addicted to dope by the time we graduated...a few people died from it. Look to thy own self USA.

    Sorry....my heart is bleeding for THOUSANDS of dead do to bombing and war, not people who are coping with their dead friends and shattered lives anyway they can.

    Lets get some running water and basic sanitation going, THEN talk about the drug "problem".

    February 22, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Charlie Potts

    Why doesn't the U.S. simply buy the opium poppies from the farmers? It would be much cheaper and much more effective than using troops to burn the fields.

    February 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |

    I agree with post #15. Looks like lazy journalism to me. I mean, let's see, why doesn't the reporter just do a bit of research to find how much the people of this country have suffered throughout the 31 years of incessant war that has claimed millions of lives left the country in shambles?

    February 22, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  39. sightunseen

    Brandy, Well said.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Steve

    Afghanistan's opium problem is just spillover from their massive opium production + poverty + violence and other disruption. The West should decriminalize heroin, which has very few negative side effects (the ill effects are rather a secondary result from prohibition). Opium production will then move to California (where marijuana is already the #1 cash crop at $14 billion per year), and consumption can be dealt with in the same way as alcohol and tobacco (both harmful, addictive drugs).

    February 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |

    The war on drugs is a great money maker for the military, law enforcement agencies, penal systems and the elder population. It has decimated the least offenders who are younger generations by negating their futures and entrenching the status quo/the older population who continue to acquire prosperity, prestige and power at the expense of our youth.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  42. dai manju

    well the simplies mixture wouod be very hot water and sand dropped from a choper, or if you prefer hot pitch or any other resin.

    of course there is the always the moist popular napalm which is nothing more than a flameshooter use in WWII in bomb form.

    after that, let them grow sand.


    February 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Kate

    People: Think before you speak. Words need to be chosen, with care. The result of what you write, tends to be different to the result you intend.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  44. CECIL

    For the record "Katie" Marijuana is not a drug that kills people everyday and makes you want to rob,kill and just do dumb things to get.Marijuana is the safest and cheapest also has more uses then any OTC & Rx Drug on the market and it won't kill you. you can not overdose on Marijuana! Herion thousands die everyday!! I understand you're point. but Marijuana Prohabition is done and the Goverment lost the drug war 20 years ago they just like to waist are $ on thing that could never be changed.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Jack Frost

    Wake up people. The reason we went to war in Afganistan is 02 was because the Taliban had chpped down all the opium. The US govt needs the production of heroin in order to keep the short term money supply in the US in balance. The US govt is directly involved in the production of this opium and its shipment into the US. Have been for years.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Katie

    I like this reporter. Master of his domain–diverse–a breath of fresh air is what he is.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  47. Woody

    Americas curse is liquor ! Hi is hi no matter how you look at it. Taxes on liquor also pays for wars !

    February 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Tony

    Make it the same as Alcohol and Cigarettes. Tax it and control it. If illegal drugs are never going away then spending billions enforcing the law and housing the prisoners is just plain stupid.

    Tax the drugs, generate needed income to deal with the Trillion in national debt we have incurred enforcing and inprisoning.

    The good news is that with most countries on the verge of Bankruptcy, this may be the time to revisit this issue AGAIN.

    Eistein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. The definition suggests a sanity check.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  49. jason

    To Rak and Brandy,

    Rak, I dont know where you are from, or what religion you follow, but you cant just say that the people of Aghanistan are being hypocrites. Last time I checked there is more people in America with drug problems then the middle east. I myself am catholic, and im not perfect. but i do know that there are alot of fake people here that say they are good christians and catholics and there not... so look in the mirrior before you start talking....

    Brandy, i agree with everything you said, good job.....

    February 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Jonathan

    The problems isn't there as much as it is....here! We have a society of drug addicts, and recreational drug use. The level and price at which the Opium and Cocain trade commands is an function of the demand here on the street of the USA. It's total malarky that we turned them into drug addicts. These people were long the poorest of poor ever since the Soviets invaded, and even before that.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Anthony D

    We will be no more effective at dealing with their opium problem than we will with their OTHER opium problem–religion.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
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