Feeding Drugs and War: Heroin and Poppies in Afghanistan

The opium poppy is red and grown in Afghanistan. Coincidentally, heroin is derived from opium. Finally, what brings this all together is while America suffers through a heroin epidemic, this same nation wages war with Afghanistan. Once again, it could be another stroke of chance, of coincidence- but that is almost never the case.

Firstly, it is important to address the circumstances of growing opium in Afghanistan. The country alones hold “500 acres”’ worth of land that is reserved solely for cultivating the plant (Chuck, 2015). The problem, however, lies within the farmers’ plight- taxes. The Taliban collects taxes from these farmers and coerce the same producers to keep producing opium. Growing other crops is difficult as well, since opium production is slowly becoming an integral part of the economy (Chuck, 2015) and farmers have to pay taxes equal to the amount of an opium harvest with a different crop. At the same time, the U.S.’s attempts at establishing antinarcotics programs in Afghanistan have continued to be unsuccessful. Much of this stems from opium’s own connection to the country’s economy, especially in the livelihoods of the farmers who produce it: with poverty-stricken farmers while local governors continue to grow richer, the aforementioned are forced to continue to grow opium poppy as a means to “survive” (Chuck, 2015).

How does this affect the U.S. though? With a criminalized system backing the growth of opium in Afghanistan, simultaneously 500,000 people in the States have become addicted to heroin (BBC News, 2016). The U.S.’s focus on both “counterinsurgency” and “counternarcotics” (Chuck, 2015) in Afghanistan could be a factor in the epidemic itself; fighting both at the same time is impossible, let alone doing so on a focus that is predominantly about getting rid of the drug itself. According to an article by NBC News, it’s much more important to stress about what the drug leads to (Chuck, 2015). It’s crucial to focus on its effect at home just as it is to focus on the source- or, at the very least, one of them.

The heroin epidemic and Afghanistan’s opium poppy crops are weaved into a deadly, violent web of exploitation. The ultimate winner within this fight are the moneymakers, who continue terrorizing local farmers to produce opium poppy and potential markets, while leaving half a million addicted and in worse scenarios.