It’s not uncommon to see men smoking heroin between the blast walls near Shahr-e Naw Wedding Hall in southwest Kabul. Opioid use is prolific in the Afghan capital, despite the Taliban pledging to ban the production of drugs and tackle narcotics addiction under their rule.
But what may be more surprising to those passing through the area is the disturbing sight of heroin being fed to the stray dogs that roam the area.
Ahmad (not his real name) has been smoking heroin for several years, feeding his addiction through a mixture of stealing, begging and collecting plastic bottles for recycling. A mixed-breed stray dog, likely born on the streets of Kabul, lies nearby. Ahmad places a plastic bottle tight over the dog’s nose and blows heroin smoke through the open top. After a few ‘hits’ the subdued dog stands and stares.
A series of disturbing photos taken in southwest Kabul show homeless addicts feeding heroin to the stray dogs that roam in the area to encourage the animals to stay close to the men and provide them with warmth and companionship
One of the homeless men explains that giving heroin to the stray dogs – which appear to be suffering the same effects of addiction as you would see in humans – means they return each night and provide both body heat and comfort to the addicts.
After seizing power in August, the Taliban said it was committed to stamping out narcotics addiction and eliminating all drug production and smuggling in Afghanistan. There have been reports in Kabul of Taliban policemen rounding up and beating homeless drug addicts or forcibly taking them to rehabilitation centres.
The homeless men in Shahr-e Naw are fearful that they will be beaten or worse if they are discovered smoking heroin, as they have heard of addicts being killed by the Taliban. A friend of Ahmad, who has been addicted to drugs for eight months, cries while holding the heroin behind his back. ‘I did not know if I used drugs my life would be like this and I would lose my family,’ he says. ‘I’ve memorised the Quran. I’m not a bad person, I’m in a deep well I can’t get out of.’
One of the homeless men places a plastic bottle tight over the dog’s nose and blows heroin smoke through the open top, leaving the dog subdued and suffering from similar symptoms a human would after ingesting the drug
Although many of the drug addicts have to work hard to make money to pay for drugs, they appear to willing to give some of this heroin to the stray dogs for the body heat they provide, especially during Afghanistan’s bitterly cold winter months
The vast majority of the world’s opium that’s used for heroin is grown in Afghanistan’s poppy fields, and some of it never leaves the country’s borders but is smoked in the streets of the capital.
Ahmad and the other addicts in this drug-ravaged homeless community crumble the drug over tin foil, heat it with a lighter and use a thin straw to inhale the smoke.
Heroin is seemingly cheap in Kabul, with addicts spending around 200 Afs ($2.20) (£1.60) a day on the habit, but many will work all day and through the night for a fix.
Collecting items for recycling makes 5 Afs (6 cents) (4p) per kilogram, with tins being the prized items as they make the weight quicker, while bringing five customers to a taxi driver will make a person 10 Afs (12 cents) (8p).
This makes it surprising that addicts will waste the precious drug on stray dogs, but to Ahmad and the other men it’s worth it for the companionship and warmth the animals provide, especially during Afghanistan’s bitterly cold winter months.
Temperatures in Kabul regularly fall below freezing during the winter in Kabul and snowfall is frequent – which may help explain why addicts are willing to give some of their precious drugs to the stray animals to keep them close
Although there is little recent research on the effect of heroin on canines, based on what we know about opioids, veterinary surgeon Dr Guy Sandelowsky hypothesises that dogs experience a transient sense of euphoria on absorption of the drug
The effects of heroin on a dog are concerning, Dr Sandelowsky says that not only does it put dogs at risk of a lethal overdose, it’s also likely to cause long term toxicity to the liver and have profound negative effects on their quality of life
The temperature in Kabul at this time of year ranges between 25 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 to 13 degrees Celsius), but by January the city will be colder and snowfall is frequent. In 2012, temperatures in Kabul dipped as low as 3 Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius).
After a video emerged on social media in the summer of 2016 of a young dog showing disturbing signs of heroin addiction, there were reports that homeless men in Kabul were feeding the drug to the stray animals.
The Dodo shared the story of Nesha the dog who had been seen rubbing her head against the walls of a bridge in apparent discomfort, exhibiting distressing signs of addiction.
Nesha had been living among the homeless addicts under the Pul-e-Sokhta bridge in Kabul and the video showed her being fed drugs and suffering in an intoxicated state.
The homeless addicts in this drug-ravaged homeless community near Shahr-e Naw Wedding Hall in southwest Kabul crumble the drug over tin foil, heat it with a lighter and use a thin straw to inhale the smoke
The homeless men in Shahr-e Naw are fearful that they will be beaten or worse if they are discovered smoking heroin, as they have heard of addicts being killed by the Taliban, who have pledged to rid the streets of drugs
After seeing the video, veterinarian Dr. Mujtaba Rezaei, who was at the time working for the of Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, took a team down to Pul-e-Sokhta bridge to rescue Nesha.
He was initially told by the addict who ‘owned’ Nesha that without her three doses of drugs a day the dog would get sick, but the team were able to remove her from the streets and she has since been re-homed with a family in Kansas.
Upon being brought back to the Nowzad shelter (which has ceased operations in Afghanistan since mid-August), it became clear that Nesha was exhibiting signs of dug addiction and was suffering from withdrawal.
‘She was very weak and could not walk properly,’ Dr. Rezaie told The Dodo. ‘She was so dependent on the drugs that she would bang her head against the wall if she didn’t get her ‘fix’.’
Veterinarians put Nesha on a rehabilitation program that involved low doses of pain medication administered three times per day to ease her withdrawal off the heroin, and she was given a wheelchair to help her walk since the muscles in her legs had wasted.
In 2016, The Dodo shared the story of Nesha the dog who had been seen rubbing her head against the walls of a bridge in apparent discomfort after apparently being fed heroin by an addict who lived
After being brought back to the Nowzad animal shelter, it became clear that Nesha was exhibiting signs of dug addiction and was suffering from withdrawal – she was struggled to walk due to muscle wastage and banging her head against a wall
Hannah Surowinski, co-founder of Nowzad, said at the time that Nesha’s was the first case of a dog addicted to opioids that the charity had come across, but they had since heard of other dogs in the same area whose owners had made them reliant on heroin.
London veterinary surgeon Dr Guy Sandelowsky explains that although there is little recent research on the effect of heroin on canines, based on what we know about opioids, as well as how heroin affects humans and morphine is metabolised by dogs, he would hypothesise that dogs experience a transient sense of euphoria on absorption of the drug.
He points to a 1971 paper documenting the cardiovascular effects of intravenous heroin in dogs. Dr Sandelowsky says: ‘Like is the case for humans, heroin was found to have profound physiological effects in dogs such as severe depression of blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.
‘As a result, heroin caused markedly reduced concentration of oxygen in the blood – a condition called hypoxia which we know can cause muscle pain, brain damage and organ failure.
Veterinarian Dr. Mujtaba Rezaei and his team put Nesha on a rehabilitation program that involved pain medication administered three times per day to ease her withdrawal off the heroin and she was given a wheelchair to help her walk
Since her rescie in 2016, Nesha has fully recovered from her heroin addiction and has been re-homed with a family in Kansas
‘As a veterinary surgeon, I find the notion of a dog becoming addicted to a drug like heroin extremely disturbing. Not only does it put dogs at risk of a lethal overdose caused by cardio-respiratory depression and arrest, it’s also likely to cause long term toxicity to the liver and have profound negative effects on their quality of life.’
The imam at the nearby Haji Yaqub mosque, Hamid Ullah, tells us that drugs are haram (forbidden) as the Hadith (sayings of the prophet Muhammed) instruct a Muslim not to harm animals, not a tree and not themselves.
The homelessness, addiction and poverty seen around the city looks set to worsen under the Taliban, with charities warning of an impending humanitarian crisis as the economy hovers on the verge of collapse.
Unemployment is rocketing as foreign businesses leave the country and desperate Afghans are resorting to selling their possessions simply to buy food for their families. As the winter approaches, famine seems like a very real possibility with millions facing starvation and lack of access to water, shelter, and basic health care.