This weekend, the New York Times treated readers once again to the spectacle of opium addiction in Afghanistan, a country, according to the article’s title, “Trapped in a Narcotic Haze.”
The article did note in passing that economic forces might have something to do with increased addiction, as men traveling in search of work encounter intravenous drug cultures not (yet) indigenous to Afghanistan. Aside from this nod to the country’s economic distress, the article was remarkably silent about the way that political economy– say, colonialism, decades of war and occupation, massive displacement of peoples, a ravaged infrastructure, etc.– might factor in to the question, focusing instead on the lurid details of “this particular circle of hell” and the inability of public health officials to get a handle on the growing problem.
Okay, fine: it’s an article in the Sunday paper. I myself have said that while the political economy of addiction is a crucial part of understanding it, it’s the rare junkie indeed who gets clean by reading Hardt and Negri. (Points readers whose experiences differ, please do write me!) If you want a very concise discussion of why opium production is Afghanistan’s leading industry– including acknowledgement of the US government’s pivotal role in creating the situation– Pierre-Arnoud Chouvy provides it here, in China and Eurasian Forum Quarterly (2006). If you want a more careful and well-sourced discussion of the public health issue, you can get it from Catherine Todd, Naqibullah Safi, and Steffanie Strathdee in their matter of fact article on “Drug Use and Harm Reduction in Afghanistan” (2005).
But where should those of us interested in the history of recovery turn?