Growing crystal meth use blurs drug-hungry Afghanistan's future

Wed May 29, 2013 6:02am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Impoverished Afghanistan, already plagued by insurgency and struggling to contain crippling rates of opium addiction, faces another potential headache with spiraling usage of the synthetic drug crystal methamphetamine.

The growing use of the drug, known as crystal meth or ice, comes at a critical time. Some fear that, with the exit of most foreign troops by the end of next year and dwindling interest and aid from the international community, significant addiction to the relatively new drug could wreak social havoc.

The number of crystal meth samples taken from seizures tripled to 48 in 2012 compared with the year before, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Importantly, however, there are concerns the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of foreign troops could turn Afghanistan into a new route for moving Iranian-made crystal meth to nations in the Pacific, like Thailand and Indonesia, through Pakistan.

"It's a potential threat," a Kabul-based official from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Small quantities of around half a kilogram are usually seized, said Peter Bottomley, the UNODC's consultant in Kabul, describing it as a "worrying trend".

"If this country gets addicted to meth, there will be a big problem," Bottomley said.

Afghanistan is the world's top producer of opium, from which heroin is made and which helps fund the Taliban's insurgency, and is heading for a near-record this year, the UNODC has said.   Continued...

An Afghan pharmacist analyses samples of drugs, at a laboratory under the Interior Ministry's Counter Narcotics, in Kabul May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail