Cheap heroin floods the United States with no end in sight, but two major authorities say this is in no relation to the war in Afghanistan. While admitting that there is a rising heroin epidemic in the United States, the latest assessments from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and United Nations (UN) both state that heroin from the Middle East is not the problem.
Global heroin production has increased 5-fold from 1980 to 2010 according to the 2015 United Nations (UN) World Drug Report. The problem originates from Afghanistan’s rich poppy fields, which supply the world with 85% of its heroin. The Inspector General of Afghanistan speculates that reconstruction projects aimed at improving the roadways and agriculture instead created the perfect conditions for smugglers to take advantage of a booming heroin trade. To underscore this point, the World Drug Report found that Afghanistan’s poppy fields grew by 36 percent from 2012 to 2013, the highest levels of growth since the 1930s.
Despite supplying the majority of the world with heroin, very little of Afghanistan’s illegal product makes its way to the United States. In 2012, for example, only 4 percent of all United States heroin seized by authorities originated the Middle East (or “Southwest Asia”, as the 2015 DEA Drug Assessment calls it). That is not to say that the United States is without a heroin problem. The same report reveals that the average size of a heroin seizure in 2014 was 81 percent larger than in 2010, from 2 thousand kilograms to 5 thousand kilograms.
Oddly enough, the DEA acknowledges that the majority of Canada’s heroin comes from the Middle East.
Other statistical indicators foretell of a rising heroin problem in the United States. The 2014 DEA Assessment reports that 54 percent of Americans believed “heroin availability was increasing” in their immediate area. This number grew to 65 percent in 2015. Overall, heroin was ranked as the second greatest threat by most Americans, surpassed only by methamphetamine.
Critics linking the explosion of heroin activity directly with the Afghanistan war use the same logic that the World Drug Report employs when it correlated a 1980s spike in American cocaine addiction with the country’s presence in Nicaragua. According to the UN and DEA, however, Mexico and Columbia are responsible for supplying United States heroin addicts with their next fix, not Afghanistan. Mexico doubled its production of heroin by 50% in 2014 according to the World Drug Report, and its close proximity to the States allows for easier smuggling routes. The small amount of heroin that reaches the United States from the Middle East has to be shipped from Africa first (through Nigerian smugglers specifically), which is tougher due to enhanced security measures in place at airports.
The World Drug Report and the DEA Drug Assessment both agree that the increase in heroin abuse is largely in part due to the reformulation of OxyContin. When the pill became harder to insufflate or inject by design, many users switched to heroin out of desperation and necessity. This has led to heroin “available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people”, and “causing an increasing number of overdose deaths”, says the DEA.
The latest DEA Assessment goes on to state that heroin deaths tripled between 2007 and 2013, from 2,402 to 8,257.
“While Afghan heroin currently accounts for relatively little of the heroin seized in the United States,” the World Drug Report reads, “this may be changing.” It goes on to later add, “Afghan heroin may be reaching new markets”, meaning the United States. This speculation, combined with a surge of growing heroin statistics, suggests a serious epidemic with no signs of abating.