Heroin traffickers in war-torn Afghanistan have reassumed control of the world market, expanding their illicit trade into the United States and Canada to become what authorities say is the fastest-growing source of heroin in both countries.
Reports by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said Afghanistan’s share of the U.S. heroin market doubled in the past five years.
The RCMP report warned that the increase in Afghan heroin in Canada came despite nearly $60 million spent by the Canadian government to fund anti-drug efforts in that country, adding that about 60 percent of the heroin on Canadian streets comes from Afghanistan.
The report said the heroin was making its way to Canada through two main trafficking arteries: the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is routed to India and then Canada, and from Afghanistan to western Africa, where it is shipped to the United States and then Canada.
About 92 percent of the world’s heroin comes from opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, according to the 2007 World Drug Report — released in June by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium cultivation accounts for nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product.
Poppy production has expanded wildly since Hamid Karzai’s government took control in 2002. Last year, Afghan farmers produced 6,100 metric tons of opium, while farmers throughout the rest of the world cumulatively harvested 510 metric tons. Ten years ago, Afghanistan produced 2,248 metric tons of poppies.
Drug czar John Walters told The Washington Times last month that although political and economic circumstances in Afghanistan have improved, the drug situation remained serious.
Mr. Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that after more than 20 years of conflict and with the lack of many viable alternative crops to opium and the limited enforcement capacity of the central government, Afghanistan has emerged as the largest illicit opium-producing country in the world.
He said that although Afghan opium cultivation is not a major source of the heroin on American streets, it is important that the U.S. assists the Afghan government in its fight against the illegal narcotics trade.
The U.N. report also said the world heroin market has been divided into three regional submarkets, including: Afghan opiates for markets in neighboring countries, Europe, the Near and Middle East, and Africa; opiates produced in Southeast Asia for markets in China and other Southeast Asian countries, as well as Oceania; and opiates produced in Latin America, which are used to supply the North American market.
But, the report said, it “appears that cross-regional trafficking is gaining in importance,” citing what it called “indications that a small but increasing proportion of opiates from Afghanistan are being trafficked to North America, through eastern and western Africa and Europe.”