CANNABIS, SYNTHETIC DRUGS AND DRUG USE IN CENTRAL ASIA

ILLEGAL DRUGS IN CENTRAL ASIA

According to the United Nations: “Drug trafficking is a principal concern for Central Asia, given its link to opiate use, injecting drug use, HIV/AIDS, and drug-related crime. There are several major trafficking routes through the region making use of the improved road and rail links. However, traffickers also move off the main roadways and make use of the maze of trails through the mountains and across “green borders” to avoid detection. UNODC estimates indicate the scope of opiate trafficking in the region is both significantly higher than the volume seized (total seizures amount to less than 4 percent of estimated opiate flows in heroin equivalence) and increasing annually (12 percent increase in 2006) due to copious supply from Afghanistan. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Concomitant with the rise of drug trafficking in Central Asia has been the rise of drug abuse rates. The wide availability of cheap heroin has changed patterns of abuse from the use of ‘traditional’ narcotics, such as smoking opium and marijuana, to intravenous use of heroin and to a lesser extent opium...While high opiate use rates generally occur along drug trafficking routes, high rates of opiates use are not found uniformly along these routes. Rather, the locations with high rates of opiate use tend to be urban locations used as centralization points for storing, repackaging and redistributing of opiates. |~|

“Looking at the trend of newly registered drug users, there has been a marked difference in the 1996-2001 period and the 2002-2006 period, with the volume of newly registered drug users per annum significantly lower in the latter. This may suggest that while drug use is still increasing annually, it is not increasing at as fast a rate as seen in the 1996-2001 period...Drug related crime volumes in Central Asia have followed an inverted-U pattern: increasing between 1993 and 2000, then decreasing through 2005. It is difficult to explain this post 2000 trend given the increasing opiate production in Afghanistan since 2001 and the increasing volume of opiates thought to be trafficked through the region. |~|

“It is widely known that small-scale cannabis cultivation and large areas of wild cannabis growth are present throughout Central Asia. Cannabis is produced primarily for local consumption, with a lesser portion trafficked to markets in Europe and the Russian Federation. Synthetic drug use has not been widespread in Central Asia primarily due to economic factors. In general, synthetic drugs are more expensive and are used by the affluent or middle class. It is not unlikely that synthetic drug use will become more common as economic conditions in the region improve. Central Asia has the capacity to produce methamphetamines from the copious amounts of wild growing Ephedra in the region. Likewise, the large licit chemical industry in nearby China could be tapped to produce synthetic drugs. Inhalant use is also a growing concern, particularly as inhalant use among young people is more prevalent than cannabis. |~|

“A chain of causation can be seen between drug trafficking, opiate use, and HIV in Central Asia. Central Asia’s location on drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan results in wide availability and lower opiate prices, encouraging abuse. Injecting drug use coupled with unsafe injecting practices in turn contributes to higher rates of HIV and has produced a concentrated HIV epidemic among the IDU community. As many of these IDU engage in other risk practices such as unprotected sex, the potential exists for a generalized HIV epidemic as seen in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. |~|

See Separate Article on Opium and Heroin

Drug Use in Central Asia

Marijuana grows openly in many parts of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. The Lake Issyk-Kul area of Kyrgyzstan is particularly famous for hashish. In some places you will see old men chewing a king of finely crushed chewing tobacco called nasvai, noz, or nasvar. It often contains spices, ash or or lime and is sometimes spiked with opium.

In the Soviet era there were virtually no intravenous drug users in Central Asia. In 2003, there was an estimated 300,000 addicts in Central Asia in 2003, with 20,000 in Dushanbe alone. At that time the region was regarded as having a fast growing drug problem. Some addicts were children as young as 10. Although quality statistics were hard to come by it was believed that the number of overdoses and HIV infections shot way up.

In the early 2000s, drugs were openly sold at markets in Dushanbe at one hundredth of their cost in the West. Heroin is called gera in Tajikistan. It is considerably purer than anything found in the States or Europe and can be purchased for around $5 to $8 gram. Some users are couriers who have been paid in drugs. One Interpol spokesman told Newsweek, “Every time a country is used as a transit route, the number of addicts there rises sharply.”

Drug Users in Kazakhstan

The problem of teenage drug addiction is a serious problem in Kazakhstan. The government there has reported that the youngest registered drug addict taking drugs intravenously is only 5 years old. [Source: Vladimir Prokopenko, Tengri News, November 12, 2012 <=>]

In the 1990s, domestic use of narcotics was confined largely to areas of production, notably around Shymkent. Although only 10,700 addicts were registered in 1991, experts believe the actual number to be much higher. The use of homemade opiates increased significantly in the early 1990s. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Many heavy drug users inject opium mixed with flour or heroin. Opium and heroin are relatively cheap. Drug users often gather in abandoned apartment to shoot up. There ia a lot of needle sharing.

On drug addict in the industrial city of Termirtau told the New York Times, there was nothing to do so “I decided to try with friends for the first time. It was easy to buy drugs.” Another addict who held down his job at a steel while injecting opium said he needed $3 a day to maintain a level mood and more to get high.

Cannabis in Central Asia

Marijuana grows openly in many parts of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, particularly southern Kazakhstan. The Lake Issyk-Kul area of Kyrgyzstan is particularly famous for hashish.

According to the United Nations: “It is widely known that small-scale cannabis cultivation and large areas of wild cannabis growth are present throughout Central Asia. Cannabis is produced primarily for local consumption, with a lesser portion trafficked to markets in Europe and the Russian Federation. When produced for local consumption, short supply routes hamper interdiction efforts. On the whole, cannabis seizure volumes have varied significantly from year to year...There is little data available on cannabis cultivation. In general, this disinterest is a reflection of the effort of Central Asian governments and the international community to prioritize the detection of opiates, a significantly more harmful category of drug. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all report cannabis eradication: 0.59 ha in Kazakhstan, 537.5 ha in Kyrgyzstan, 32.19 ha in Tajikistan, and 1.84 ha in Uzbekistan. This is equal to an eradication rate of 100 percent of the areas of wild growth and illicit cultivation reported in 2006, although there is reason to doubt this level of success. There is no available data on eradication in Turkmenistan. |~|

“Cannabis is produced primarily for local consumption, with a small portion trafficked to markets in Europe and the Russian Federation. When produced for local consumption, short supply routes hamper seizure efforts as most cannabis is produced and consumed locally. On the whole, cannabis seizure patterns have been increasing steadily since 1998; however, this underlying growth trend is primarily a reflection of increasing seizures in Kazakhstan. |~|

Cannabis Seizures in Central Asia (kilograms), 1996-2006: 49,168.2 in 1996; 27,948.0 in 1997; 15,586.3 in 1998; 15,343.0 in 1999; 19,959.9 in 2000; 20,248.1 in 2001; 22,155.0 in 2002; 22,764.1 in 2003; 25,092.1 in 2004; 25,461.6 in 2005; 27,157.0 in 2006. Total reported seizures for Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan.

Cannabis seizures in Central Asia (kilograms, percent): A) Kyrgyzstan: 2,399.76, 9 percent; B) Uzbekistan: 428.65, 2 percent; C) Turkmenistan: 154.34, 1 percent; D) Tajikistan: 1,305.54m 5 percent; E) Kazakhstan: 22,868.66, 83 percent.

See Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan

Cannabis Use in Central Asia

According to the United Nations: “There is very little information on cannabis use in Central Asia, particularly occasional use. Without extensive study or government statistics, it is difficult to estimate the prevalence of occasional and/or problem users. However, government officials and representatives from international organizations in the region have acknowledged that cannabis is widely used, though not perceived to be a major problem. Cannabis users make up 19 percent of total registered drug users. | [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Data on cannabis use among youth indicates that use is very minimal with Tajikistan reporting the lowest lifetime use4 at 0.5 percent of youth and Kyrgyzstan reporting the highest lifetime use at 11.7 percent of youth. There was a marked gender difference with more boys than girls reportedly using cannabis and, in all countries except Kazakhstan, cannabis use was more prevalent than opiate use but less prevalent than inhalant use. “Lifetime use” refers to the percent of youth who have used a given drug in their lifetime. This is contrasted with use “in the past 12 months” and use “in the past 30 days”. |~|

Cannabis use among registered drug users (RDUs), 2006: A) Kazakhstan: registered cannabis users: 11108; cumulative total percent of all RDUs: 20 percent; prevalence per 100,000 population: 72.5; total registered drug users (RDUs): 54411; B) Kyrgyzstan: registered cannabis users: 2155; cumulative total percent of all RDUs: 27 percent; prevalence per 100,000 population: 41.0; total registered drug users (RDUs): 7842; C) Tajikistan: registered cannabis users: 533; cumulative total percent of all RDUs: 7 percent; prevalence per 100,000 population: 8.0; total registered drug users (RDUs): 7865; D) Uzbekistan: registered cannabis users: 3091; cumulative total percent of all RDUs: 15 percent; prevalence per 100,000 population: 11.5; total registered drug users (RDUs): 19964. |~|

Estimated annual prevalence of cannabis use as a percentage of the adult population (annual prevalence, year of estimate): Kazakhstan (4.2, 2000); Kyrgyzstan: 6.4, 2001; Tajikistan: 3.3, 1998; Turkmenistan: 0.3, 1998; Uzbekistan: 4.2, 2003. |~|

Percentage of students age 16 who reported using cannabis by frequency A) Kazakhstan: lifetime use: boys: 16.8; girls: 7.0; use in the past 12 months: boys: 11.3; girls: 4.5; use in the past 30 days: boys: 7.4; girls: 2.6. B) Kyrgyzstan: lifetime use: boys: 8.0; girls: 1.7; use in the past 12 months: boys: 4.2; girls: 1.1; use in the past 30 days: boys: 2.6; girls: 0.7. C) Tajikistan: lifetime use: boys: 0.8; girls: 0.2; use in the past 12 months: boys: 3.2; girls: 0.6; use in the past 30 days: boys: 2.1 girls: 0.6. D) Uzbekistan: lifetime use: boys: 0.7; girls: 0.4; use in the past 12 months: boys: 0.4; girls: 0.1; use in the past 30 days: boys: 0.2; girls: 0.1. |~|

Hashish Seizures

“Although heroin is the drug of highest value trafficked from Afghanistan, between 2004 and 2010 hashish seizures in Central Asia grew by 250 per cent with all countries reporting huge increases. In that period, the largest increase was recorded in Uzbekistan (+3,270 per cent), followed by Kyrgyzstan (+226 per cent), Turkmenistan (almost +200 per cent), and Kazakhstan (+70 per cent).” [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

There has been a “sharp rise in hashish seizures in Central Asia concomitant with the drop in opium production and the rise in cannabis cultivation across the border, notably in Balkh. Perhaps heralding the emergence of a new international route, in June 2011 officers of the Kazakh National Security Committee [NSC] in Almaty found 5.7 tons of hashish in a railway container of construction materials travelling from Afghanistan via Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The shipment was to travel further to Europe and North America and the group involved had reportedly already sent several shipments using the same route. |*|

Hashish seizures in Turkmenistan, 2004-2010 (in tons): A) 0.04 tons in 2004; B) 0.02 tons in 2005; C) 0.21 tons in 2006; D) 0.12 tons in 2007; E) 0.07 tons in 2008; F) 0.3 tons in 2009; G) 0.1 tons in 2010. |*|

Hashish seizures in Kyrgyzstan, 2004-2010 (in tons): A) 0.2 tons in 2004; B) 0.1 tons in 2005; C) 0.2 tons in 2006; D) 0.4 tons in 2007; E) 0.5 tons in 2008; F) 0.7 tons in 2009; G) 0.5 tons in 2010. |*|

Hashish seizures in Uzbekistan, 2004-2010 (in tons): A) 0.02 tons in 2004; B) 0.01tons in 2005; C) 0.01 tons in 2006; D) 0.1 tons in 2007; E) 0.1 tons in 2008; F) 0.05 tons in 2009; G) 0.6 tons in 2010. |*|

Hashish seizures in Kazakhstan, 2004-2010 (in tons): A) 0.2 tons in 2004; B) 0.3 tons in 2005; C) 0.3 tons in 2006; D) 0.3 tons in 2007; E) 0.5 tons in 2008; F) 0.6 tons in 2009; G) 0.4 tons in 2010. |*|

Heroin and Opium Abuse in Central Asia

According to the United Nations: “Concomitant with the rise of drug trafficking in Central Asia has been the rise of drug abuse rates. Prior to the beginning of large-scale drug trafficking in the 1990s, the use of ‘traditional’ narcotics, such as smoking opium and marijuana was predominant. The easy availability of cheap heroin has changed the pattern of abuse and led to growing intravenous use of heroin and to a lesser extent opium, creating serious problems with HIV/AIDS due to unsafe injecting practices. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“While high opiate use prevalence generally occurs along drug trafficking routes, high rates of opiates use are not found uniformly along drug trafficking routes. Rather, the locations with high rates of opiate use tend to be urban and those that are used as centralization points for storage, repackaging and redistribution of opiates. Given that evidence suggests that heroin is bought and sold multiple times before it reaches its destination in the Russian Federation or Europe, the potential for a spill over effect of increased demand stemming from low prices and wide availability is likely. |~|

“In 2006, there were 90,082 registered drug users in Central Asia, excluding Turkmenistan for which there is no data available. Of this figure, 70 percent (63,296) were opiate users comprised of 76 percent (47,827) heroin users and 24 percent (15,469) opium users. Worryingly, 70 percent of registered drug users1 and 91 percent of opiate users2 were reported as injecting drug users. In contrast, UNODC estimates that the full scope of opiate use in the region is likely much larger: 280,000 users of which 220,000 are injecting drug users. |~|

Heroin and opium user among registered drug users in absolute numbers and percentages, 2006: A) Kazakhstan: Heroin: 25,461, 47 percent; Opium: 9,984, 18 percent; Injecting Drug Users: 38,821, 71 percent; total registered drug users: 54,411; B) Kyrgyzstan: Heroin: 2,694, 34 percent; Opium: 2,186, 28 percent; Injecting Drug Users: 5,388, 69 percent; total registered drug users: 7,842; C) Tajikistan: Heroin: 6,335, 81 percent ; Opium: 669, 9 percent; Injecting Drug Users: 4,694, 60 percent; total registered drug users: 7,865; D) Uzbekistan: Heroin: 13,337, 67 percent; Opium: 2,599 13 percent; Injecting Drug Users: 9,133 46 percent; total registered drug users: 19,964.

“Looking at the trend of newly registered drug user, it is interesting to note that there has been a marked difference during the periods of 1996-2001 period and the 2002-2006 period, with the percentage of newly registered drug users significantly less per annum in the latter. This may suggest that while drug use is increasing annually, it is not increasing at as fast a rate as seen in the 1996-2001 period. Conversely, this pattern may also suggest that a larger portion of drug users were registered in the 1996-2001 period, pointing to variations in registration efforts by governments in the region. |~|

Synthetic Drugs and Inhalants in Central Asia

According to the United Nations: “Synthetic drug use has not been widespread in Central Asia primarily due to economic factors. In general, synthetic drugs are more expensive and are used by the affluent or middle class. It is not unlikely that synthetic drug use will become more common as economic conditions in the region improve. Central Asia has the capacity to produce methamphetamines from the copious amounts of wild growing Ephedra in the region. Likewise, the large licit chemical industry in nearby China could be tapped to produce synthetic drugs. Inhalant use is also a growing concern, particularly as inhalant use among young people is more prevalent than cannabis. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Unlike plant-based drugs, the production of synthetic drugs starts with readily available chemicals, combined in small, easily concealed laboratories. This makes an assessment of the location, extent and evolution of the production of synthetic drugs extremely difficult. Central Asia has the potential to be a major source of synthetic drugs, given its copious supply of Ephedra. |~|

“Ephedra – a genus of plant containing ephedrine, a precursor of methamphetamine – grows wild in many parts of Central Asia. The latest available survey of Ephedra growth in Central Asia (UNODC 1998) observed wild growth on 138,117 ha (88,299 ha in Kazakhstan, 46,433 ha in Kyrgyzstan, and 3,484 ha in Tajikistan) although total growth figures was estimated to be significantly higher. Likewise, the large licit chemical industry in nearby China could be tapped into to produce synthetic drugs for the Central Asia market, as has happened for the American and South African markets. |~|

Synthetic Drug Use in Central Asia

According to the United Nations: “In general, synthetic drugs are more expensive and are used by the affluent or middle class often linked to raves and night clubs. Indeed, as economic conditions have improved in the Russian Federation in recent years, the demand for synthetic drugs has increased exponentially. As other trends related to drug use and HIV in Central Asia have begun to parallel those of the Russia Federation, it is not unlikely that synthetic drug use will become more common as economic conditions in the region improve. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“It is difficult to quantify the extent of synthetic drug use in Central Asia given the dearth of statistical information available regarding number of addicts, frequency of use, price and availability. Inhalant use is a growing regional concern among youth. For Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, inhalant use among young people was more prevalent than cannabis and inhalant use among youth is reported to be increasing in the region. |~|

Synthetic drug use among registered drug users, 2006: A) Kazakhstan: Ephedra: 0; Hallucinogens: 0; Sedatives: 0; Solvents & Tranquilizers: 0; Polydrugs: 0; Other: 7857; B) Kyrgyzstan: Ephedra: 8; Hallucinogens: 0; Sedatives: 11; Solvents & Tranquilizers: 80; Polydrugs: 708; Other: 0; C) Tajikistan: Ephedra: 0; Hallucinogens: 0; Sedatives: 0; Solvents & Tranquilizers: 55; Polydrugs: 0; Other: 243; D) Uzbekistan: Ephedra: 0; Hallucinogens: 9; Sedatives: 81; Solvents & Tranquilizers: 178; Polydrugs: 243; Other: 29. The generic categories “other” and “poly-drug” may or may not include synthetic drug use. |~|

Percentage of students age 16 who reported never using drugs in their lifetime: A: Kazakhstan: any drug use: 87.6; amphetamine: 99.8; LSD: 99.7 crack: 99.7; ecstasy: 98.5; GHB: 99.8; inhalants: 91.5 steroids: 99.5. B) Kyrgyzstan: any drug use: 95.1; amphetamine: 99.6; LSD: 99.5 crack: 99.6; ecstasy: 99.3; GHB: 99.7; inhalants: 94.6; steroids: 99.5; C) Tajikistan: any drug use: 99.3; amphetamine: 100; LSD: 100 crack: 99.9; ecstasy: 99.9; GHB: 100; inhalants: 97.9 steroids: 100. D) Uzbekistan: any drug use: 99.3; amphetamine: 99.9; LSD: 99.9; crack: 99.9; ecstasy: 99.9; GHB: 99.9; inhalants: 99.2 steroids: 99.9. |~|

Percentage of students who reported synthetic drug use within the past 12 months and 30 days A) Kazakhstan: Used once or more in the past 12 months: inhalants: boys: 2.4; girls: 2.0; ecstasy: boys: 2.3; girls: 0.7; steroids: boys: 0.1; girls: 0; Used once or more in the past month: inhalants: boys: 1.3; girls: 1.1. B) Kyrgyzstan: Used once or more in the past 12 months: inhalants: boys: 2.4; girls: 1.7; ecstasy: boys: 0.1; girls: 0; steroids: boys: 0.2; girls: 0.1; Used once or more in the past month: inhalants: boys: 1.6; girls: C) Tajikistan: Used once or more in the past 12 months: inhalants: boys: 8.4; girls: 4.2; ecstasy: boys: 0; girls: 0; steroids: boys: 0; girls: 0; Used once or more in the past month: inhalants: boys: 2.1; girls: 3.6. D) Uzbekistan: Used once or more in the past 12 months: inhalants: boys: 0.4; girls: 0.3; ecstasy: boys: 0; girls: 0; steroids: boys: 0; girls: 0; Used once or more in the past month: inhalants: boys: 0.3; girls: 0.2.

Drug Related Crime in Central Asia

According to the United Nations: “Drug related crime statistics should be viewed in relation to the goals and priorities of law enforcement agencies and their respective governments. Accordingly, the scope of drug related crime as well as the level of prioritization assigned to interdicting drug related crime is reflected in these statistics. Drug related crime statistics indicate the number of crimes registered in a given time period, but crucially, they do not indicate with any precision the nature or scope of crimes committed, the investigative or judicial capacity of states, the integrity of law enforcement officers and the judiciary, or the perceived legitimacy of their actions. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Drug Related Crime (DRC) in Central Asia: 31,683 in 1993; 35,355 in 1994; 38,938 in 1995; 31,741 in 1996; 22,420 in 1997; 21,293 in 1998; 22,130 in 1999; 24,915 in 2000; 26,134 in 2001; 26,978 in 2002; 29,556 in 2003; 26,723 in 2004; 24,228 in 2005; 19,678 in 2006. |~|

“Drug related crimes refer to all those crimes registered by the authorities as being drug related. Central Asian states’ criminal codes, unlike the Russian Federation’s for example, classify possession of any kind of illicit substance as a criminal offence. Drug related crime figures do not refer to crimes prosecuted successfully; they can still be registered but dismissed during the investigation or prosecution of a case. Most drug related crimes are registered following the arrest of a drug user for possession of a small quantity of an illicit substance, with very few arrests of major crime figures in the mix. Partially, this is a response by law enforcement agencies to ‘benchmarks’ set by their superiors of the number of crimes they should be registering. Commencing criminal proceedings against an individual also opens avenues for the solicitation of bribes and is thus advantageous for corrupt law enforcement personnel. The lack of investigation and prosecution of high profile targets is a reflection of the difficulty and resources required to pursue extensive investigations and also the unwillingness on the part of Central Asian governments to concede that organized crime, including organized trafficking groups, are an increasing problem in the region. Fewer arrests of higher profile figures, which would be registered as a decline in interdictions, would nonetheless produce a more significant decline in crime in the region. |~|

“ Central Asia as a whole has seen an increase in drug related crime between 1993 and 2000, followed by declining levels through 2005. It is difficult to explain this post 2000 trend given the rising opiate production in Afghanistan and the rising volume of opiates thought to be trafficked through the region. It is also interesting to note that most of the crimes recorded have been for distribution or storage of drugs and not for smuggling. |~|

Drug Trafficking in Central Asia

Central Asia is a major player in the global illegal drug trade. Much of the opium and heroin from Afghanistan, which has accounted for as much as 75 percent of world’s heroin, makes it way through Central Asia to Europe, where it is consumed. Central Asian nations also produce their own drugs and are expected to take up the slack if drug production in Afghanistan is to to significantly drop. All this drug activity has resulted in a significant amount of local drug use and enriched local gangsters.

Large quantities of opium, heroin and hashish are smuggled through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Much of it originates in Afghanistan and makes its way to Russia, with some then moving on to Europe. In the 1990s, routes through Central Asia replaced the traditional routes through Pakistan and Iran as authorities in those countries began cracking down more on drug smuggling.

The United Nations reported: “It is difficult to quantify the extent to which organized crime is embedded in drug trafficking in Central Asia given the lack of data available. Most Central Asian law enforcement agencies have focused on catching low-level traffickers or individuals with quantities associated with personal use in their possession, rather than investigating and interdicting high-value targets. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Trafficking through Central Asia is generally characterized as relatively unstructured, comprised mainly of small traffickers working in ethnically-homogenous groups. Small amounts of drugs are thought to be bought and sold multiple times, with trade usually controlled by the dominant ethnic group of the country being transited. Recent signs, however, indicate that this may be changing with organized criminal groups playing an increasing, albeit still marginal, role in trafficking. |~|

Drug Production in Central Asia

Opium, heroin and hashish are produced in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Europe became flooded with pale beige 90-percent pure “white heroin” produced from Afghanistan opium at former Soviet chemical factories in Central Asia. Addicts regarded this heroin as far superior to the crude, brownish heroin that came from Turkey and the Balkans.

Some raw materials are smuggled into Central Asia and drugs are manufactured there. This is known as precurso trafficking. r According to the United Nations: “In addition to the trafficking of drugs, the trafficking of precursor chemicals is of growing regional concern. Transforming raw opium into heroin requires the early addition of a significant amount of precursor chemicals. Crucially, Afghanistan does not produce these chemicals domestically. Thus large volumes of illicit precursor chemicals required for the conversion of opium must be smuggled in from other countries. In addition, because Central Asia has no known production facilities, all heroin trafficked along the “northern route” must be processed within Afghanistan. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Central Asia’s borders with China and Afghanistan may be particularly vulnerable to precursor trafficking. A significant portion of border officials have no precursor training and lack sufficient knowledge for their detection. Threat perceptions among the border service are oriented toward incoming traffic exclusively, neglecting precursors which may be exiting the region. Most worryingly, intense inspections of both incoming and outgoing cargo are rare. |~|

Drug Trafficking Routes Through Central Asia

Most of the heroin, opium and other drugs that move from Afghanistan through Central Asia begin their journey traversing the Afghanistan- Tajikistan border. Drugs also move from Afghanistan through Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan or across the Caspian Sea to the Caucasus, Black Sea and the Balkans to Europe. The old routes from Afghanistan to Pakistan then to Europe by sea or from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey to the Balkans are still used.

Heroin and opium are moved across the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border by small time smugglers who carry the drugs on mules, horses or their backs on mountain trails through the Pamirs. From the border the drugs are carried by car to Dushanbe or along the highway between Khorog, near the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, and Osh in Kyrgyzstan. From Dushanbe the drugs move by highway, train and plane. Much of the drug cargo is carried in trucks, cars or minibuses. Some makes its way westward in diplomatic pouches. Much of it moves through Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan and then to Russia where it makes its way to Europe along a number of routes.

A lot of the drugs that pass through Tajikistan leave the country from Gorno-Badakhshan, a lawless region largely beyond the control of the government, and pass into Kyrgyzstan. From there they move by highway to Osh, a city in the Fergana Valley of Kyrgyzstan. From there most of the drugs move on the rugged roads to Bishkek and then to Kazakhstan. Bishkek in very near the Kazakhstan city of Almaty. There is a lot of traffic and a lot of routes between Bishkek and Almaty and it is easy for smugglers get drugs across the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border. The border between Kazakhstan and Russia is one of the world’s longest and most porous borders. It is even easier to move drugs across that border.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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