Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities.
Jalalabad, Afghanistan – The Zangoui settlement, where members of the Kochi nomad population live for part of the year, is on the edge of Jalalabad in Afghanistan’s east.
It is usually quiet, cut off from the bustle of the commercial and cultural hub.
But on one warm day last month, the calm was broken by the sounds of a Ford Ranger speeding down the road.
A group of well-to-do young men in their 20s get out and start discussing a new drug that has, in their words, gained popularity among young Afghans.
“Hashish is nothing. Opium is nothing. All anyone wants to do now is drop tablet k,” said Gharzai*, a fit 23-year-old university student who like his friends, seems to have a hard time concentrating. He admits he has taken the drug.
The pill he is referring to is still largely a mystery to officials, who are startled by its sudden rise, along with crystal meth.
While it took about a decade for heroin to become prominent, both meth and the so-called tablet k appear to have become the drug of choice for young people in a shorter time.
Last December, officials from the interior, public health and counter-narcotics ministries, and the United Nations, addressed the rising use of tablet k.
“Even school students have turned to using tablet k,” said Mohammad Naseer Sharifi, who runs a programme aimed at reducing drug demand, under the Counter-Narcotics Ministry.
Al Jazeera interviewed Afghans from Nangarhar, Kunduz and Kabul, who said they had used the drug.
Two teenaged students at a private high school in Kabul said they knew several classmates who frequently took tablet k.
According to a news report in April, in the southeastern province of Paktia, health officials said tablet k pills had been seized from local pharmacies.
In Jalalabad, Mohammad, who works at a pharmacy, told Al Jazeera the drug could be found anywhere from taxis, kebab shops, rickshaws and even pharmacies.
“We put it in antibiotics packets and when those who know what to ask for approach us, we sell it to them under the guise of medicine,” said Mohammad*, who uses the drug and requested anonymity.
There is very little understanding of the drug’s ingredients.
In 2017, the United Nations has said the pills, likely a form of stimulants, could contain anything from methamphetamine to MDMA, but that: “The content of tablets sold as ‘tablet k’ in Afghanistan remains unclear.”