Mohamed Omar was just trying to get some drugs when he felt a hand grab him from behind. It was the Taliban, who had come to take him away. He was one of hundreds of men rounded up by the hardline Islamist group in recent months from the notorious Pul-e-Sukhta bridge in western Kabul, parks, and hilltops.
The bridge was a hangout for drug addicts, with hundreds of men often seen squatting among piles of rubbish, syringes, faeces, and occasionally the corpses of those who had overdosed. Afghanistan is the drug addiction capital of the world, with an estimated 3.5 million people addicted to heroin or methamphetamine.
Omar was taken to a former US military base which had been turned into a makeshift rehabilitation centre. Footage later released by the Taliban government showed their soldiers clearing the area of addicts who had died from an overdose – their lifeless bodies being carried away wrapped in dark grey shawls.
The rehabilitation hospital has 1,000 beds and currently 3,000 patients. Conditions are squalid, and the men are kept in the centre for roughly 45 days where they undergo an intense programme before being released. There is no certainty that these patients will not relapse. Some women and children have also been taken to dedicated rehabilitation centres.
Omar was once a flight attendant with Kam Air and travelled the world, but he lost his job when Kabul fell and turned to drugs. The Taliban have ordered an end to the poppy trade and are trying to enforce this policy, but according to the UN, cultivation increased by 32% in 2022 compared to 2021.
The doctors at the centre are struggling to find space for all the patients they receive, and they need help from the international community. Despite the overcrowding and lack of resources, they remain committed to doing everything they can to help these addicts. They hope to give them hope for the future, as right now there is none.