Full Article - http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/08/07/afghan_heroin/?source=whitelist#share It's easy for soldiers to score heroin in Afghanistan Simultaneously stressed and bored, U.S. soldiers are turning to the widely available drug for a quick escape. By Shaun McCanna Aug. 7, 2007 | BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Just outside the main gate to Bagram airfield, a U.S. military installation in Afghanistan, sits a series of small makeshift shops known by locals as the Bagram Bazaar. For Afghans, it is the place to buy American goods, but the stalls that make up the heart of the bazaar are also well known for what they provide American soldiers stationed at Bagram. Walking through the bazaar it takes less than 10 minutes for a vendor in his early 20s to step out and ask, "You want whiskey?" "No, heroin," I tell him. He ushers me into his store with a smile. The shop is small, 9 feet wide by 14 feet deep, and dark. The walls at the front are lined with dusty cans of soda, padlocks and miscellaneous beauty supplies. As we enter, a teenager is visible at the back, seated in a chair next to a collection of American military knives and flashlights. The shopkeeper speaks to him in Dari. The teen stands and heads for the door, where he stops and asks my Afghan driver a question. My driver translates, "He wants to know how much you want? Twenty, 30, 50 dollars' worth?" From past experience, for I have arranged this same transaction a dozen times in a dozen different Bagram Bazaar shops, I know that the $30 bag will contain enough pure to bring hundreds of dollars on the streets of any American city. Afghanistan, after all, is the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin. I say 30 and the teen jogs off. The true extent of the heroin problem among American soldiers now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is unknown. At Bagram, according to a written statement provided by a spokesperson for the base, Army Maj. Chris Belcher, the "Military Police receive few reports of alcohol or drug issues." The military has statistics on how many troops failed drug tests, but the best information on long-term addiction comes from the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA is the world's largest provider of substance abuse services, caring for more than 350,000 veterans per year, of whom about 30,000 are being treated for opiate addiction. Only preliminary information for Iraq and Afghanistan is available, however, and veterans of those conflicts are not yet showing up in the stats. According to the VA's annual "Yellowbook" report on substance abuse, during Fiscal Year 2006, fewer than 9,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) sought treatment for substance abuse of all kinds at the VA; the report did not specify how many were treated for opiate abuse. Experts think it could be a decade before the true scope of heroin use in Iraq and Afghanistan is known. Dr. Jodie Trafton, a healthcare specialist with the VA's Center for Health Care Evaluation in Palo Alto, Calif., says it takes five or 10 years after a conflict for veterans to enter the system in significant numbers. The VA has recently seen a surge in cases from the first U.S. war in Iraq. "We're just starting to get a lot of Gulf War veterans," she explains. For the first few years after a conflict, it's hard to gauge the number of soldiers who've developed a substance problem. Young soldiers especially, says Dr. Trafton, tend not to seek treatment unless pushed by family members. Left to their own devices, "usually people don't show up for treatment till much later." The anecdotal information, however, suggests there may be a wave of new patients coming, and it will include many heroin users. I'm a filmmaker, and I have been to Afghanistan several times to research a film about a soldier who died there under murky circumstances. Before his death, the soldier, John Torres, had told friends and family of widespread heroin use at Bagram. Based on my own experience, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars the Bush administration has spent on opium poppy eradication, Torres was right. I asked to buy heroin a dozen times during two trips a year apart and never heard the word "no"; I also saw ample evidence that soldiers were trading sensitive military equipment, like computer drives and bulletproof vests, for drugs. Other soldiers who have served at Bagram agree: Heroin, they say "is everywhere." And although they haven't shown up in the statistics yet, reports from methadone clinics suggest the VA's future patients may already be back in the States in force. Much like the caskets that return to the Dover Air Force base in the dead of night, America's new addicts are returning undetected.