Attrition: The Elusive American Drug Epidemic In Afghanistan


June 17, 2012: There have been a growing number of reports of Afghans selling opiates (opium, heroin, morphine) to foreign aid workers, military personnel and other non-Afghan officials. The U.S. Department of Defense investigated and found that, in the last two years, eight American military personnel had died from opiate overdoses and 56 military personnel were suspected of involvement with these drugs (using or selling). Thus less than one percent of American military deaths in Afghanistan are the result of illegal drugs. American military personnel have ample opportunity to use opiates in Afghanistan. After all, Afghanistan is the largest producer of opiates on the planet and accounts for some 90 percent of the heroin produced each year.

For many of the troops, stationed in small groups out in the hills, the easiest place to get opium or heroin is from a local shop. Buying from these shops helps build relationships with the locals. A carton of Afghan cigarettes cost only four dollars in most shops. For a few dollars more, troops can get cigarettes laced with heroin, which is a favorite way of consuming the drug these days. Some troops indulge, safe in the knowledge that they will have time to stop before they go home, and are again subject to the random drug tests that have made the U.S. armed forces the most drug free on the planet. The army tried to administer a random drug test to all troops stationed in Afghanistan but this is often impossible because of ongoing operations. The threat of drug testing hasn't stopped some troops from looking for a way to get high. Heroin and opium are cheap in Afghanistan, as is marijuana. But heroin enhanced cigarettes are the most discrete way to get ripped. But if there's too much horse in the tobacco, the user can be a few tokes from blackout, or death.

The army has not noticed any difference in drug use between troops in Afghanistan and those back in the states. Nevertheless, all troops headed for Afghanistan are tested for drugs. Despite decades of drug testing and quick punishment of those found using drugs, there are still troops who use drugs. Most get caught and are usually discharged. As a result, American troops, compared to civilians of the same age, gender, and education, are far less likely to use drugs.


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