Hundreds of men using heroin, opium and meth are strewn over a hillside above Kabul in tents or lying in the dirt. Some of them overdose, and quietly slip across the line from despair to death.
“There’s a dead man next to you,” someone tells me as I pick my way among them, taking pictures.
“We buried someone over there earlier,” another says further down.
Drug addiction has long been a problem in Afghanistan, the world’s biggest producer of opium and heroin, and now a major source of meth. The drug use has been fuelled by persistent poverty and decades of war that have left few families unscarred.
It appears to be getting worse since the collapse of the country’s economy after the seizure of power by the Taliban in August 2021, and the subsequent halt of international financing.
Families once able to get by have found their livelihoods cut off, leaving many barely able to afford food.
Millions have joined the ranks of the impoverished.
Drug users can be found around Kabul, living in parks and sewage drains, under bridges and on open hillsides.
A 2015 survey by the United Nations estimated that up to 2.3 million people had used drugs that year, which would have amounted to about 5 per cent of the population at the time.
Seven years later, the number is not known, but it’s believed to have only increased, according to Dr Zalmel, the head of the Drug Demand Reduction Department who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.
The Taliban have launched an aggressive campaign to eradicate poppy cultivation. At the same time, they have inherited the ousted, internationally backed government’s policy of forcing drug users into camps.
Earlier this summer, Taliban fighters stormed two areas frequented by drug users — one on the hillside and another under a bridge.
They collected about 1,500 people, officials said.
They were taken to the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment, a former US military base that in 2016 was converted into a drug treatment centre.
It is the largest of several treatment camps around Kabul.
There, the residents are shaved and kept in a barracks for 45 days.
They receive no treatment or medication as they go through withdrawal.
The camp barely has enough money to feed those who live there.