In 2009, the UN Member States decided to make further and decisive progress, within a decade, in controlling illicit drug supply and demand.
Many illicit drug markets have reached global dimensions and require control strategies on a comparable scale. In that context, there is a need to better understand these transnational markets and the manner in which they operate.
Opiate seizures continue to increase. This applies to both opium and heroin seizures. Morphine seizures, in contrast, declined in 2008. The largest seizures continue to be reported from the countries neighboring Afghanistan, notably the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.
Heroin is the most widely consumed illicit opiate in the world. It is derived from opium, which itself can have an illicit use. Of the opium that is not converted into heroin, two thirds is consumed in just five countries: the Islamic Republic of Iran (42%), Afghanistan (7%), Pakistan (7%), India (6%) and the Russian Federation (5%)
In contrast to its high opium consumption levels and despite its proximity to the world’s largest heroin producer, official reports indicate that heroin consumption is relatively low in the Islamic Republic of Iran (14 metric ton for an estimated 391,000 users).
Demand for opium
A large volume of opium is consumed in the Islamic Republic of Iran, approximately 450 mt (metric ton), according to UNODC estimates.
The highest volumes of morphine and opium seizures were reported by Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors. In 2008, Pakistan (7.3 mt) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (9 mt) seized a combined 16.3 mt of morphine, a staggering 95% of global morphine seizures.
In contrast, Afghanistan only seized 479 kg that same year. Most Iranian and Pakistani morphine seizures occurred close to the Afghan border, perhaps suggesting that if large scale processing is taking place outside Afghanistan, it is staying close to the source. Both Pakistan (27 mt) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (573 mt) effected more than 90% of global opium seizures, but demand for the substance is high in both countries while that of morphine is negligible.
Of the estimated 380 mt of heroin produced in Afghanistan, approximately 5 mt stay in the country for local consumption or is seized by local law enforcement. The remaining 375 mt are exported to the world via routes flowing into and through the neighboring countries of Pakistan (150 mt), the Islamic Republic of Iran (105 mt) and the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (95 mt) towards their final destinations in Europe, the Russian Federation and Asia.
In addition to heroin, Afghanistan also exports some 1,000 mt of opium annually to its immediate neighbors (the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia) and further to a global market of some 4 million opium consumers – most of which are in Asia
Flow interception (seizures)
Interception rates vary widely between regions; however, estimated global interception rates are approximately 20% of the total heroin flow worldwide in 2008. The Islamic Republic of Iran leads all countries with 23% of all heroin interceptions. Turkey comes next with 16%, followed by the United States and China, which come in third and fourth with 9 and 8% respectively.
Routes and volumes
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan is 1,845 km long and consists of mainly mountainous or harsh desert terrain. There are obvious challenges to achieving even partial control over this area, although 12,000 anti-narcotics police and border guards are reportedly deployed at these long borders. 60 The Balkan route begins in Afghanistan’s southern and western provinces, with shipments destined for both the Afghan-Iran border and the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Most of the heroin flow moves through the Iran-Afghan border. Every year, approximately 105 mt of heroin are smuggled from the Afghan provinces of Nimroz, Hirat and Farah into eastern Islamic Republic of Iran. Possibly due to increased law enforcement efforts at that border, Afghan traffickers are thought to increasingly rely on the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran route, estimated to handle an additional 35 mt of heroin. To do this, they must first cross into the Pakistani province of Balochistan and veer east into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Once in the Islamic Republic of Iran, only two borders separate Afghan opiates from mainland Europe.
In all, approximately 1,000 mt of opium and 140 mt of heroin flow into the Islamic Republic of Iran via these borders. Most of the heroin, around 30% (105-110 mt) of Afghanistan’s total production, continues to move west/south-west into the Islamic Republic of Iran towards Turkey and further to Europe.
Some of the identified routes running through the Caucasus are:
1. Islamic Republic of Iran – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Black Sea – Ukraine and/or Bulgaria;
2. Islamic Republic of Iran – Caspian Sea – Russian Federation/Caucasus – Black Sea – Ukraine and/or Bulgaria;
3. Afghanistan – Central Asia – Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan/Caucasus.
One kg of heroin is worth around US$2,000- 2,500 in Afghanistan, but rises to US$3,000 on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and to US$5,000 on the Iran-Afghanistan border. It increases yet again by around 60%, to approximately US$8,000, at the Iran-Turkey border. Based on the estimated flows via this route, Iranian crime groups organizing heroin trafficking from the Afghanistan-Iran border to the Turkey-Iran border stand to pocket some US$450-600 million per year.
In addition to heroin, raw opium (some 1,000 mt in 2008) also flows from Afghanistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran via the above-mentioned routes to feed an established Iranian market. An estimated total of 450 mt65 of opium is consumed each year in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The annual street value of opium consumed in that country is around US$900,000.
The term ‘transit country’ may not adequately apply to the Islamic Republic of Iran, given the ravages of opiates in the country. There are around 1 million opiate users in the Islamic Republic of Iran and approximately 14 mt of heroin and 450 mt of opium are consumed in-country. The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to have one of the highest rates of heroin addiction per capita in the world:
20% of Iranians aged 15 to 60 are involved in illicit drug use, and 9% – 16% inject drugs. But the lethality of heroin is even more direct on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s borders where 3,500 casualties among the border guards are a reminder of the risks taken by law enforcement officials to stem this deadly flow.
The starting material used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine in the Islamic Republic of Iran is most likely domestically diverted pseudoephedrine. Since 2006, the first year such reporting was required by the INCB, the Islamic Republic of Iran has reported notable increases in its annual legitimate requirement of the chemical. In just four years, the demand grew to give the Islamic Republic of Iran the fourth highest legitimate requirement in the world.
Not only does this increase the likelihood of domestic diversion, but it also makes the country an attractive target for precursor diversion by transnational organized crime groups. That this may be more than a realistic concern is evidenced by recent reports of two stopped shipments of pseudoephedrine totaling 11 mt, both destined for Ethiopia.
Globally, UNODC estimates that between 155 and 250 million people, or 3.5% to 5.7% of the population aged 15-64, had used illicit substances at least once in the previous year.
Every year from 1996 to 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran accounted for more than two thirds of annual global opium seizures. For six consecutive years, increasing quantities of opium were seized in this country (from 73 mt in 2002 to 561 mt in 2008), setting the trend for the global total. According to preliminary data, in 2009 seizures stabilized, standing at 579 mt.