May 27th, 2010
02:24 PM ET

Addicted from birth

KABUL, Afghanistan — Watching a drug addict going cold turkey in a rehabilitation center is hard. When that drug addict is 3 years old, it is heartbreaking.

But this is the shocking reality for some children in Afghanistan — an addiction that is passed on through birth and breastfeeding, or becoming dependent from second-hand smoke, often from their parents.

The Sanga Amaj Center in Kabul is one of just 40 drug treatment centers in the whole of Afghanistan. Just 40 centers for a population of more than 28 million, one million of which are believed to be addicted, according to the United Nations.

Children at the clinic receive toys

At the center, the U.S. representatives of the State Department’s anti-narcotics program — which funds 30 of these centers — give out gifts donated from U.S. schoolchildren. The children start to smile, smiles that hide the suffering for a while. Just long enough to trade presents with each other until everyone’s happy with the toy or teddy bear they’ve received.

Mothers and children are treated together at the center in a 45-day course to break the habit before they return to their family – and unfortunately, sometimes back to easy access to opium and often back to an addicted husband. Doctors say they wish they could keep them for longer but there are others waiting to get in.

A 35-year-old mother at the center says she unwittingly passed her addiction on to her 3-year-old daughter.

She is now eight months pregnant and says she came to the center because she was worried her next child could be addicted from birth. Like most women in the center, she says she started smoking or eating opium because her husband did.

“I was breast-feeding her so she got used to it,” she says with her daughter on her lap. “When I stopped giving her milk she was not well, her eyes became red and she was crying.”

She then gave her opium tea to soothe her. She says she had no idea it was addictive. Her daughter stares vacantly, barely moving.

Doctors say some of the mothers use opium as a painkiller for themselves and their children because they have no medicine and no other choice.

Dr. Homa Mansory has worked at the clinic for a year and a half and says it still upsets her to see children addicted. “These kind of treatment centers are vital, but we need more, especially for women and children,” she says.

Only two of Afghanistan's 40 centers are currently equipped to treat children. There are no proven clinical treatments developed for addicts this young as the problem was only recently discovered.

Meanwhile, the mother at the clinic proudly shows off her daughter who has some color back in her cheeks. One child has had a second chance. What is less certain is how many more may not.

—More from CNN International's Connect the World

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Smith in Oregon

    Amp UP and Pay Dearly Later!

    Beginning with the German Blitzkrieg, Amphetamine based stimulants have been widely found and used in all battle fields. Being alert and ready at all hours day or night is essential when trying to survive in a battle-zone. Reflex's that are faster than the enemy's are often the primary determination on who survives a house to house sweeping action and those that go home in a body bag or buried in the village sand berm.

    Many stimulants have been pushed and provided by the US Military over the years to its soldiers, pilots and security forces. Cylert, Pemoline, Meth Amphetamine derivatives and now Anti-Depressants are all designed to stimulate and flood the users senses with a much stronger sensory input than normal.

    The price comes with deeply ingraining of images of horrors leading to PTSD victims seeing those horrors for many years on a regular basis.

    Soldiers and just as importantly the Family's of active duty Soldiers serving in battle fields need to say NO to US Military personnel who push or attempt to encourage you to take stimulant drugs, including anti-depressants in the battle zone. What about coffee? There is somethings which a soldier can't do without, good coffee is one of those things along with a strong reliable weapon beside them.

    May 31, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. World Traveler

    Sadly after reading all the posts, I didn't see anyone write about CULTURE which quite often is tied in with religious beliefs. I have been to the middle east and lived in both Turkey and Libya. Americans really don't understand CULTURE because for the most part we don't have much. Sticking to the subject of the use of opiates in the opium producing countries has for thousands of years been a part of their culture. In Afghanistan it's OPIUM..,not the heroin derived from the opium for world wide consumption. It's not seen as an addiction, illegal or odd when used to eliminate pain or to calm their children, until AMERICAN TELLS THEM IT is. Now when they start using the chemical compound that makes heroin that's another story which is extremely rare with the Afghans. Same exact thing in South America where coca leaves are grown. Their culture is to chew the leaves for stamina to work and ease hunger pains. After the white folks (yup non whites didn't invent harsh drugs, they used nature) tinkered with the natural plants, invented heroin and cocaine and got people worldwide addicted by making huge sums of money and changed the NORMAL CULTURE and use of the drugs...........did problems start. Do you think the Mexican drug lords are killing with abandon their own people to supply Mexican addicts? NO NO NO. America, Europe and now Russia are the largest consumers of illegal drugs. We really need to stay out of other countries affairs and stop trying to force our way of life upon others. I am from a military family, as a matter of fact I am a military widow. But when I think of Viet Nam, Korea, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq....I can't justify our children dying for any of these countries! Power, money and being the biggest bully in the world has given us Americans a huge ego. We need to get the heck out of Afghanistan right now. To heck with nation building. You want to help children? Try Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas or Alabama and nation build there for the term Nation Building is used in place of ACCEPT OUR CULTURE AND VALUES.

    May 31, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. uhm2bad

    Rehab is for seriouslywhy are these people in so much pain? Might it not be cheaper to give these people asprin or somthing along those lines..we really do need to clean up our own backyard, just look at the mess out there. It's a cesspool, makes you wonder what kind of difference that money being spent here would make?

    May 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sam Lopper

    And how about all the ALCOHOL that the Mothers and fathers ues during CONCEPTION of these CHILDREN ? Oh thats right ALCOHOL IS GOOD FOR THE FETUS,They dont get addicted to that ONLY SMOKING RIGHT ? Bull...T

    May 29, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  5. CGeorgeK

    Yet another opportunity for American pharmaceutical companies to make millions, billions of dollars making zombies out of Afgans with their opiate addiction drug treatments, the same way they make zombies out of Americans with opiate addictions – drugs like Methadone are more deadly and debilitating than anyone can possibly imagine. But, no worries, as our are troops there to supervise poppie production and the pharmacuetical companies are ready with the remedy for addiction. Business as usual in Washington.

    May 28, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Smith in Oregon

    During the horrific Republican led administration of Bush-Cheney all 34 provinces in Afghanistan were planted with Opium-Poppy fields to the maximum in accordance with the Karzai Clan who was hand-picked by the CIA and alleged to have a long history of Opium-Heroin exportation from Afghanistan.

    Now under the Democratic administration led by President Obama, Opium-Poppy fields are only found in 5 provinces in Afghanistan and a fungus targeting the roots of the Opium-Poppy plants is killing off those that remain.

    It appears America's involvement with the tidal wave of Heroin that swept across the Middle East, Russia and eventually found it's way into America's grade schools is residing and drying up. Thank-God

    May 28, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Barbara

    Our young men come back to us both mentally and physically disabled, if they come back at all. Who is going to defend our country here on home turf when the need arises? America wake up, we are on the verge of violence here in America as people become more frustrated with government, with aborted terrorist threats, oil leaks lasting over a month. Here's a paranoid thought; who's paying off BP to allow this leak to continue for so long? I applaud Arizona for taking action and think other states should back them.
    Addicted children are sad to think about, but we have them here. I work in health care. Don't tell me we have enough centers here for everyone to get treatment. Sure we do, if you have the money to pay for it, over and over again. If you are middle class or lower, treatment can break you financially and the resitivism rate is 90%. Just like the article mentioned, they get 45 days and go back to the same situation. They are most likely using opium again within a month or less.
    Good read, Global Rebellion by Mark Juergensmeyer.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Lennybaby

      Well stated,Barbara.

      May 28, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. Iraq Paramedic

    May GOD Bless & keep us all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 28, 2010 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      How can God bless America with us using those ungodly drones dropping 500lb.bombs on defenseless people and these right-wing nutjobs cheering them on???

      May 31, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. carl51

    what is wrong with America

    May 28, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Lennybaby

      The fact that the right-wing thugs in Washington won't mind their own business and think that somehow they have this God given right to interfere in the affaires of other nations and but in wherever they see fit.

      May 28, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
      • Steve

        Yeah those right-wingers are really something! Nevermind the fact that left-wingers control the White House, BOTH houses of congress, and the majority of the media... Yeah... a right-winger was the one who made the order to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Yup. Uh huh.

        May 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Widows Son

    i am not sure if anyone read the fact they do it due to lack of medications and to avoid pain and suffering. The talibans and the radical "muslim" regime is to blame for this I hope US troops are able to kick bad governments out of power and give some liberty to humans who deserve freedom just as we get here in US and take for granted. The radicalization is to blame and kids cant be blamed for this obviously and we as humans should think of kids as kids we can blame the leaders not common people who are trying to survive this is heartbreaking

    May 28, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Lennybaby

      Then why has all this opium production gone up astronomically only after we invaded Afghanistan in 2001?

      May 28, 2010 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. fronco123

    something has to be done,these kids got to be helped.

    May 28, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • ezequiel

      yeah! up the afghan's their country!!! If they are not able to manage their own country, I said before...let them screw themselves!

      May 28, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Lennybaby

      The best way to help these kids is to return Afghanistan to the Taliban or call in the Chinese who back in 1950 had the biggest drug problem in the world and use their expertise.

      May 28, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. Angel

    We fund 30 of these centers? Substance abuse is big in OUR country and we are drastically underfunded as well. It would be great if the US stopped sticking its nose in everyone else's country and took care of our own. While we're off "fixing" (dripping sarcasm) other countries ours is falling apart.

    May 28, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. ezequiel

    my brother in law spent some time as a tourist in middle east (despite my warnings), believe me; after what he told me on his return I can tell you that these people doesn't deserve your feelings of pity, they are what they are because they wanted it in that way. They are corrupts, ignorants, brutal, hate women, hate American, hate EVERYTHING that is DIFFERENT FROM THEIR CULTURE. You people are too good with some thoughts, too naif. Americans should stop worrying and wasting money in other countries affairs. Let them screw themselves.

    May 28, 2010 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Caterina

      It fills me with pity, shame and disgust to see and read about people judging the Middle East like you did, especially when you don't even know what it looks like! Do you know about the values, the history, and the people of such a rich region? Do you know anything about them? Our Lord teaches us daily never to have prejudice, and come to know before ever judging anyone. It's because of people spreading discouragement, hatred and mistrust that our world is doomed to misery...Let me ask you something, would it be fair to judge ALL Americans like i don't know...barbie girls and playboys, money moguls and ignorants who don't know what's beyond their state line?...I strongly disagree, Americans are so much more than this, just like every nation is so much more than the simplistic, superficial and racist prejudices, ignorant people spread around the world because they are too lazy to look up books, internet and READ, LEARN about people different from their own culture....I am Italian Lebanese and am one the thousands of exceptions to what you said in your article! What you defined are EXTREMISTS which are THE SAME all over the world... I am sorry people like you are actually missing out on such a paradise....

      May 28, 2010 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
      • Marzia

        Very well said! I would like to thank u for everything u said and also say that I totally agree with you! The reason our world is suffering right now is the fact that there are too many people out there that hate and not enough good-hearted ones like urself! I am originally from Afghanistan myself and it hurts me to see how much hate there is for the people of my country. They have suffered so much and still are! Almost every afghan family I know has lost at least one member of their family and many friends to years of war, as have I. I would never want anyone else to go through what we have been through! I only hope that people would stop hating on things that they can't understand and try to help instead! Only then would the world be a better place.

        June 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shirley

    It isn't just Afghanistan. Here in our country there are growing numbers of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and FDA (Fetal Drug Affect) children too. The real sad thing is when it affects the brain cells you can have a genius who doesn't know what to do with their abilities, let alone being intellectually challenged. It is very scary. Some need what we call an external brain for decisions (another person who can be trusted to help them with decisions). Often though, they end up being used and taken advantage of by totally selfish people.

    May 28, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |