My family was poor, as most Afghan families were who lived in Kabul city during the civil war and Taliban regime. As a youngster, I had guns, used bullets and burnt tanks as toys. Schools were empty; kids studied under fear of bullet fire and bombs.
I have grown up in a period where drugs were widely available on streets. My friends and I were first exposed to cannabis when we were 14. Most of them went on to use opium and heroin while we were in school.
There was no information or education about drugs. The only message we heard was: “Drugs are bad and they are forbidden” (“haram” in Islam). But we witnessed many adults taking drugs openly, even some of our politicians and police.
Every day, drug users face abuse and hatred in Afghanistan. Families shun their own children because of the stigma. I had a cousin who used heroin, but since we had no information about drugs, we forcefully urged him to quit, unaware that drug addiction is a complex phenomenon and not just about willpower.
But obviously it didn’t work: one day, we found him dead, covered in blood, with a needle in his groin.
I have lost my closest friends due to overdose or imprisonment – in some cases just for carrying a small amount of drugs. Prohibition and the criminalisation of drug users have made drugs an evil, leading to stigmatisation and marginalisation. Addiction is shameful; a mother would rather her child died than used drugs.
My cousin and my closest friends have died because of wrong-headed drug policies. I carry the burden of their death, and it motivates me to stop the unjustifiable deaths of others who use drugs.
Our generation is living in the midst of a drug war. We face physical and mental trauma everyday for conditions forced upon on us by a war which can never be won.
Rather than keep fighting this war, we need to change tack. We need to put health and human rights – rather than punishment and stigmatisation – at the heart of our approach to drugs.