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World

Afghanistan could become a "game-changer" for global meth production, according to report

  • While Afghanistan's opium poppy fields are already a source of the majority of the world's heroin, a new report warns that the country is becoming a significant global producer of methamphetamine.
Published November 24, 2020
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While Afghanistan's opium poppy fields are already a source of the majority of the world's heroin, a new report warns that the country is becoming a significant global producer of methamphetamine.

According to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), crystal meth production in Afghanistan could become just as much of a lucrative illegal industry as that of opium; with local growers using the wild ephedra plant in the far reaches of rural Afghanistan to produce ephedrine.

According to Dr. David Mansfield, an expert on Afghanistan's drug industry and author of the aforementioned report, "the realisation that you could produce methamphetamine from a wild crop in the mountains has been a fundamental game-changer"; adding that drug traffickers previously used to extract ephedrine from expensive imported medicines, and could now be able to use a far cheaper alternative through some "simple chemistry".

While the ephedra plant has been used to create crystal meth in other parts of the globe, the sheer scale of this operation could prove to be unprecedented, as Dr. Mansfield and his team of researchers used satellite imagery (corroborated by the accounts of local drug producers) to detect over 300 suspected ephedrine labs in the Bakwa district in Western Afghanistan.

The report identified that the production of methamphetamine was a "two-tiered process", with ephedrine being relatively simple to extract even for poverty stricken locals, who then sell it to more specialised "meth cooks" in the area, who further refine the extracted product into the final product.

The United States in the past has carried out airstrikes on alleged drug labs in Afghanistan, but the subsequent civilian casualties and the ease with which makeshift factories could be rebuilt led to the eventual disbandment of the campaign, while the Taliban have raised significant sums from taxing drug traffickers - with the report highlighting that the militant group could be earning as much as $4 million from the district of Bakwa alone from methamphetamine.

The annual export value of the opium trade in Afghanistan ranges between $1.5 - $3 billion, supplying the majority of illicit heroin globally, with the Taliban netting up to $400 million annually from the drug trade.

The localised production of crystal meth could prove to be a game-changer for the illegal drug industry, as the cost of producing a highly addictive and potentially dangerous substance would be drastically reduced, and as history dictates, the success rate of any pre-existing drug trafficking preventive measures is insignificant when compared to the potential scale of the problem at hand.

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