This week, a dispatch from FRONTLINE/World investigates a silent epidemic in Afghanistan—opium addiction among women and children.

A web-exclusive report by award-winning reporter Nadene Ghouri profiles young mothers at the Sanga Amaj treatment center for women in Kabul. In a country where few trained doctors remain—many have fled or prefer higher-paying work as translators—the clinic struggles to shelter female addicts from the crippling shame they experience in a restrictive, patriarchal society. The clinic can’t provide heroin substitutes, such as methadone, but can offer a safe environment where women go through a slow withdrawal process with support and counseling.

An excerpt of Ghouri’s report:

The story of Khadija, who has been in and out of the clinic, shows how easy it is for entire families to fall into addiction. She lost her husband and all but one of her brothers to war. “My last brother came to my house one day and I was so depressed I couldn’t move,” Khadija said. “He asked me to try his opium and I did. I forgot my pain.”

To fund her habit, Khadija started to beg. While she was out of the house, her two children stole her drugs and began using too, she told me. Soon after, all of them were begging on the streets.

“We made a couple of dollars a day but we didn’t buy food, just drugs,” she said.

Khadija and her son and daughter were all treated at Sanga Amaj last year. But the children ran away and Khadija relapsed. Only her 12-year-old daughter, Gul Pari—which means flower fairy—came back to the clinic and is now drug free.

“She weighed 40 kilos when she first came in,” said Hakeem. She was a little nothing.”

The young girl didn’t know that what she was doing was wrong; she just remembers the warm comfortable feeling the drugs gave her. When she stopped, first her feet hurt, then she began to hurt all over. “I couldn’t eat and I was vomiting all the time. I was very scared,” she said.

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