Myanmar overtakes Afghanistan as largest opium source

Opium cultivation in Myanmar has increased by almost 20 per cent in the last year, according to the latest UNODC survey, with the country now the world’s largest source of opium.

The Golden Triangle Opium
Cultivation has continued to expand in the ‘Golden Triangle’ countries of Southeast Asia

While cultivation has continued to expand in the ‘Golden Triangle’ countries of Southeast Asia, the Taliban’s opium ban in Afghanistan has led to a 95 per cent drop in cultivation since last year, fuelling fears that highly potent synthetic opioids will fill the gaps in supply (

Economic and security disruptions in Myanmar since the military takeover in the country last year are driving more farmers in remote areas to opium cultivation to make a living, says the UNODC report. ‘While it is too early to draw conclusions on the impact the opium ban in Afghanistan has had on the situation in Southeast Asia, a protracted ban is expected to translate into continued high prices and further increases in cultivation,’ UNODC states. 

‘In the current situation, farming communities are caught between insecurity and economic hardships,’ said the agency’s deputy regional representative Benedikt Hofmann. ‘Even more people will look at opium as a viable crop if there are no alternatives, especially in the absence of the rule of law.’

Meanwhile, Public Health Wales is the latest UK agency to issue a warning about highly potent synthetic opioids. WEDINOS, the drug testing service operated by the agency, has received more than 20 samples of benzodiazepines that were found to contain nitazenes since September. The samples included substances being sold as diazepam and alprazolam – both ‘street benzos’ and drugs bought online by people ‘likely believing them to be genuine pharmaceutical products’. 

head of substance misuse at Public Health Wales and WEDINOS, Rick Lines
Head of substance misuse at Public Health Wales and WEDINOS, Rick Lines

‘We’re concerned that people taking these substances could quickly find themselves in a life-threatening situation,’ said head of substance misuse at Public Health Wales and WEDINOS, Rick Lines. ‘For individuals experiencing negative effects from taking what they believe are benzodiazepines, they may in fact be experiencing a more serious opioid overdose that should be treated with naloxone. We want to raise awareness of the dangers and make sure that people know that naloxone is a lifesaving medicine available free of charge in Wales to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.’

The National Crime Agency recently told the BBC that nitazenes had now been linked to at least 54 deaths in the UK in the last six months, with 40 more cases awaiting further testing. The delayed drug death figures for England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics are due to be published next week.

Related articles:

(Features, November 2023) Stayin’ Alive, information and downloadable resources on nitaznes.

(News, September 2023) Afghanistan sees shift from opium to methamphetamine production

(News, January 2023) Myanmar opium poppy cultivation up by a third

(News, August 2023): Better utilisation of data and data sharing, including early warning systems, is needed to address the escalating drug crisis in the UK

(Partner Updates, September 2023): Release, alongside EuroNPUD and other drug treatment service colleagues in the UK, have produced harm reduction advice on nitazenes.

(News, January 2023): Fentanyl behind 80% increase in New York’s overdose deaths

Search the DDN archive for more on opium, nitazenes, fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

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