Marijuana grows openly in many parts of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Crude heroin was being produced in Kazakhstan in the 1990s. According to the CIA World Factbook: In Kazakhstan there is significant illicit cultivation of cannabis for CIS markets, as well as limited cultivation of opium poppy and ephedra (for the drug ephedrine). Government eradication of illicit crops is limited. Kazakhstan is also transit point for Southwest Asian narcotics bound for Russia and the rest of Europe. It is a significant consumer of opiates.

Kazakhstan offers natural conditions favorable to accelerated narcotics use and trade. Many parts of the country offer excellent growing conditions for cannabis and opium poppies, and the country is located on the route to lucrative markets in the West. Until it ceased production in 1991, Kazakhstan's Shymkent plant was the Soviet Union's only supplier of medicinal opiates. The Ministry of Internal Affairs estimated narcotics production and traffic to be 30 percent higher in 1993 than in the previous year. The focus of attention for that ministry, which coordinates the republic's antinarcotics program, is the Chu Valley in south central Kazakhstan, where an estimated 138,000 hectares of cannabis and an unknown area of opium poppy fields are under cultivation, providing exports for international smugglers. Because of low funding, efforts to eradicate cannabis and poppy cultivation virtually ceased in 1995. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Synthetic Drugs and Inhalants in Kazakhstan

According to the United Nations: “Law enforcement circles in Kazakhstan are seriously concerned about the expansion of the synthetic drug market. In 2005, the Committee for National Security seized more than 36,000 ecstasy pills, all of which were produced outside the country. Given Kazakhstan’s proximity to the Russian Federation where synthetic drug use is much more prevalent, it is thought that synthetic drugs might travel to Kazakhstan through the Russian Federation. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia to report Ephedra seizures. In 2006, the reported seizure volume was very low at 3.81 kilograms; however, the seizure of over 800 kilograms just four years earlier suggests that Kazakhstan might be used or has the potential to be used as a source of synthetic drug precursors. |~|

“Kazakhstan does not report synthetic drug use as a category of registered drug users. However, of 7,857 registered drug users categorized as “other”, it is likely that some are synthetic drug users. Despite the suspected increase in non-opiate narcotics, heroin, because of significant supply and the addictive nature of the drug, still remains the drug of choice in Kazakhstan. |~|

Synthetic Drug Use in Kazakhstan

“Results of the 2006 school survey “Lifetime use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances” suggest that, while drug use is still very limited, Kazakhstan has the highest level of drug use (12.4 percent) and the highest level of synthetic drug use (2 percent) among young people in Central Asia. For lifetime use, the most frequent drug used was inhalants (8.5 percent), ecstasy (1.5 percent), and anabolic steroids (0.5 percent). There was a gender disparity with boys accounting for more use in all categories. Within the last 12 months, 2.4 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls reported using inhalants while 2.3 percent of boys and 0.7 percent of girls reported using ecstasy. No other synthetic drugs reported use above 0.2 percent. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Percentage of students in Kazakhstan who reported synthetic drug use within the past 12 months and 30 days: 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.

Synthetic drug use among registered drug users, 2006: Ephedra: 0; Hallucinogens: 0; Sedatives: 0; Solvents & Tranquilizers: 0; Polydrugs: 0; Other: 7857. 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: 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.

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.

Drug Related Crime in Kazakhstan

According to the United Nations: “Since 1996, Kazakhstan has reported the highest number and rate of drug related crimes per 100,000 people of any Central Asian country. At 68 drug related crimes per 100,000 people in 2006, Kazakhstan witnesses substantially more crime (66 percent more) than the regional average (41 per 100,000). [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Drug Related Crimes in Kazakhstan: 1990-2006: 4,165 in 1990; 4,984 in 1991; 5,935 in 1992; 7,607 in 1993; 9,584 in 1994; 13,246 in 1995; 17,077 in 1996; 14,817 in 1997; 18,636 in 1998; 21,088 in 1999; 23,340 in 2000; 17,388 in 2001; 13,313 in 2002; 12,039 in 2003; 9,748 in 2004; 9,741 in 2005; 10,423 in 2006.

Drug Related Crime Offenders in Kazakhstan: 2,656 in 1990; 3,087 in 1991; 3,722 in 1992; 4,695 in 1993; 5,890 in 1994; 8,302 in 1995; 9,573 in 1996; 10, 914 in 1997; 10,456 in 1998; 17,005 in 1999; 19,883 in 2000; 13,951 in 2001; 10,241 in 2002; 10,020 in 2003; 7,987 in 2004; 7,425 in 2005; 7,322 in 2006.

“Of 10,423 criminal cases initiated in 2006, 9,191 cases were considered before the court and 7,322 persons were convicted. Most of these involved the intent to sell (4,678) rather than smuggling charges (437). 12 percent of people convicted are women. Sub-nationally, the highest number of drug related crimes in 2006 took place in Almaty city (1,446), Karaganda (1,279), and Eastern Kazakhstan (887). These oblasts also have the first, second and fourth largest populations of registered drug users. Surprisingly, Zhambyl, which registers the highest volume of seizures, has a relatively low level of drug related crime. |~|

Main Drug Related Crimes Registered in Kazakhstan: A) Smuggling: 410 in 2005; 437 in 2006; B) Storage: 1642 in 2005; C) Distribution: 4330 in 2005; 4678 in 2006; D) Cultivation: 276 in 2005; 272 in 2006; E) Brothel Maintenance: 70 in 2005; 72 in 2006.

“Kazakhstan most clearly demonstrates the regional inverted-U trend of increasing annual drug related crime registered between 1990 and 2000 followed by decreasing annual drug related crime registered through 2005. In 1990, 4,165 drug related crimes were reported. This increased by an average of 20 percent per annum between 1991 and 2000 (peaking at 23,340 incidences), followed by a period of decline, averaging 16 percent per annum until 2005. 2006 has shown a modest 7 percent increase in drug related crime (10,423 incidences). It is difficult to know if this trend is the result of fluctuations in the amount of drugs moving through the region or if it reflects the level of prioritization assigned to drug related crime by the Kazakh government. |~|

Heroin and Opium Abuse in Kazakhstan

According to the United Nations: “Drug abuse is more widespread and growing faster in Kazakhstan than in any other Central Asian state. The prevalence of registered drug users in 2006 stands at 355 per 100,000 people, more than 200 percent higher than any other state in the region. In comparison, UNODC estimates that 1.02 percent of the adult population use opiates. The number of newly registered drug users increased 20 percent in 2006, now standing at 70 per 100,000 people. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

“Opium is the principle drug abused in Kazakhstan accounting for 47 percent of all registered drug users and 72 percent of all opiate users. In general, heroin is thought to be more harmful than opium given its link to injecting drug use. However, in Kazakhstan drug users commonly ingest raw opium intravenously by creating an opium solution, for example, a “compote” mixed with ephedrine. Occassionally the blood of one person (the “drug leader”) is mixed with the opium preparation and is then injected by multiple people, leading to an increased risk of spreading HIV and other infectious diseases. |~|

“Sub-nationally, drug abuse is most prevalent in the city of Almaty (8,839 registered users), and the oblasts of Karaganda (6,632), Zhambyl (5,251) and Eastern Kazakhstan (4,735). These areas with high drug abuse rates are located along popular and well-established opiate trafficking routes, consistent with the assumption that drug demand is created along the supply chain to the Russian Federation and Europe. |~|

“Excluding those with dependence on solvents 2 There are 58,035 registered injecting drug users in Central Asia. This is equal to 91 percent of registered opiate users; however, this figure is somewhat inflated given that persons registered as ephedrine injectors or poly-drug injectors are counted in injecting drug users. |~|

“The highest increases in registered drug abusers in recent years have been reported in Atyrau and Mangystau oblasts where some of the highest rates of heroin abuse amongst drug abusers are reported. It is peculiar that the number of registered drug abusers declined in Southern Kazakhstan, also on a major drug route. |~|

“The profile of the average Kazakh drug abuser is an unemployed, urban dweller. The majority of registered drug abusers were between 18 and 30 years of age (54 percent) with a large secondary portion over 30 years of age (38 percent). The primary drug used is heroin (47 percent) followed by opium (18 percent). |~|

“The prevalence of risk practices amongst IDUs in Kazakhstan is extremely high. In a 2005 survey of IDUs, over 15 percent of those surveyed reported not using a condom during their last sexual encounter with an irregular partner, 10 percent reported using common syringes during the last month and over 90 percent reported having practiced unsafe sex or injecting practices. |~|

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.

Last updated April 2016

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