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Treatment centres are struggling to cope with the surge of addicts hooked on the heroin that is pouring into Canada from war-torn Afghanistan
Story by ALEX ROSLIN and BILBO POYNTER Special to The Gazette|December 11, 2010
This story originally appeared in The Montreal Gazette
It’s just before 1 p.m. on a cool, sunny Monday afternoon in late November. On a quiet residential street in Montreal’s east end, half a dozen heroin addicts are waiting by office phones and cellphones in the Méta d’Âme drop-in centre and residence for opiate users and recovering addicts.
Their fingers are poised to hit the speed dial button. At precisely 1 p.m. each Monday, the phone lines open at the city’s main opiate addiction treatment centre, the Centre de recherche et d’aide pour narcomanes.
CRAN is so overwhelmed with demand, only the first caller to get through each week gets a coveted treatment spot.
For everyone else, the wait will continue another week. CRAN is the only provincially funded opiate treatment centre in the city where heroin users even have a shot at help any time soon. At other centres, the waiting lists are six to 12 months long.
“We have to come up with all kinds of tricks to help our clients (work the system),” says Guy-Pierre Lévesque, Méta d’Âme’s director and a former heroin user himself.
The city’s treatment centres are struggling to cope with a surge of addicts – many younger than ever before – who are hooked on a rising tide of heroin pouring into Canada from war-torn Afghanistan.
It’s a similar story across Canada – and, indeed, much of the rest of the world. After years of declining use in the 1990s, heroin and other opiates have made a startling resurgence around the globe – thanks in large part to a 37-fold increase in Afghan opium production since 2001, when Canadian soldiers helped the U.S. overthrow the country’s Taliban government. Afghanistan now supplies 92 per cent of the world’s opium.
Increased heroin supply in Canada, Europe and Asia and falling prices of the drug are the little-noticed side effects of the Western presence in Afghanistan since 2001.
While the Taliban had banned opium production, the poppy now flourishes in Afghanistan under the noses of Canadian and other Western officials – and sometimes directly under the boots of Canadian soldiers who are occasionally pictured in newspaper photos sauntering through poppy fields while on the prowl for Taliban rebels.
Opium generated $3.4 billion for Afghanistan’s economy in 2008 and accounted for a third of its GDP, employing about two million Afghans. It prompted Hillary Clinton to call Afghanistan a “narco-state” during her confirmation hearing as U.S. secretary of state last year.
Despite this, critics say Canadian and other Western governments have entertained close ties with Afghan warlords and officials suspected or known to be involved in the opium business and have turned a blind eye to a devastating drug that kills 100,000 people worldwide each year.
These concerns were heightened earlier in December when whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks released a U.S. diplomatic cable that said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had intervened in several drug cases, including one in which he pardoned five Afghan policemen convicted of transporting 124 kilos of heroin.
Another cable said the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful official in Kandahar province where Canadian Forces are headquartered, “is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”