Afghanistan sees shift from opium to methamphetamine production 

There is already a ‘significant shift’ in Afghanistan’s drug market, with ‘surging’ levels of methamphetamine production, according to a new UNODC report.

Methamphetamine trafficking saw a ‘drastic’ twelvefold increase in the five years to 2021, it says, from 2.5 tons to just under 30 tons. 

opium field
The Taliban introduced its opium ban in 2022.

The UNODC found that heroin trafficking had continued, but at a lower rate, since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 and introduced its opium ban a year later. Many people fear that the opium ban – if sustained and successful – will see heroin replaced by far more potent fentanyls and nitazenes in the drug market, with significantly higher risks of overdose. There have already been several reports of nitazenes entering the UK’s drug supply, with agencies warning that increasing levels of synthetic opioids in the UK market could lead to an escalating overdose crisis that mirrors the situation in the US.

OHID recently issued updated guidance on preparing for, and responding to, synthetic opioid threats

The levels of methamphetamine trafficking in Afghanistan detected since the opium ban indicate a ‘possible reshaping of illicit drug markets long dominated by Afghan opiates’, says UNODC, with seizures of suspected Afghan methamphetamine reported across the globe. The agency will publish its annual survey of Afghan opium cultivation next month. 

UNODC executive director Ghada Waly
UNODC executive director Ghada Waly.

‘The surge in methamphetamine trafficking in Afghanistan and the region suggests a significant shift in the illicit drug market and demands our immediate attention,’ said UNODC executive director Ghada Waly. ‘This new UNODC report aims to provide the international community with vital information to tackle the growing synthetic drug threat.’ 

‘Shocking as the spectre of further encroachment of fentanyl into UK illicit opioid supply chains may be, the landscape is already more troubling,’ stated a recent analysis by Transform. ‘Fentanyl is just the first of a new wave of synthetic opioids, notably including nitazenes – a family of compounds that include isotonitazene, some 40-50 times more potent than morphine’. Nitazenes were already associated with hundreds of deaths in the US – and 24 in UK in 2021 – it said, with WEDINOS analysis detecting them in substances sold as heroin, diazepam, oxycodone, Xanax and more.

‘There is also growing concern about the use of illegal benzodiazepines – implicated in hundreds of drug-related deaths in Scotland (often when used with heroin) every year, and growing numbers across the UK. Again, if heroin becomes less available, the incentive to use “street benzos” as well will increase.’

Understanding illegal methamphetamine manufacture in Afghanistan.

Taliban opium ban: what the future holds at

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