After a decade of denial, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has finally shown Afghan narcotics trafficking into the United States on their yearly report, the World Drug Report. As discussed previously on this site, preceding iterations of this report were used by the media to draw the conclusion that all illicit opioids consumed in the US were of Latin American origin. This was patently false. The UN’s own reports have clearly shown that Afghanistan was supplying 90-98% of the world’s opium since 2001 while countries like Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico combine to produce very little opium.
Additionally, any Latin American opium was usually converted into “Black Tar” heroin in Mexican and Central American labs. Black Tar heroin is a less-refined product than the light-colored crystalline substance capable of being produced in Eastern European and Southwest Asian laboratories. Even two years ago, Latin American heroin had not been able to meet the refinement levels of it’s Afghan counterpart.
Source: Insight Crime
“To take control of the US East Coast market, it changed its product to satisfy local consumers who never used coffee-colored or black heroin, which is what is traditionally produced in Mexico,” the DEA agent said.
Seeking to improve their offering, the cartel allegedly brought in Colombian “cooks” (cocineros) to turn their dark heroin into a whiter version using techniques from their home country. This transformation began around two years ago, following which the DEA began seeing a new type of heroin on the market labeled “cinnamon” due to its lighter color.
Only recently have Mexican cartels perfected their processing of opium into a more pure form of heroin:
Two years on, and the Colombian cooks working exclusively for the Sinaloa Cartel have managed to create a heroin that is “nearly as white as the Chinese [Asian] one, which the DEA has always struggled with,” Proceso quoted Coleman as saying.
The DEA also releases a yearly report which is focused solely on the United States. It’s called the National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). In this site’s opinion, their report is still stuck in the last decade while the UNODC report has improved over the few years to include more polished graphical representations of data as well as using only the latest data. The inferior NDTA report features data sets that are sometimes a few years out of date.
It is not surprising then, that when reporting information on narcotics trafficking, the DEA is not able to confidently convey to the public any solid data sets:
It is possible that these statistics are considerably flawed. According to security analyst Alejandro Hope, “We don’t know with any level of precision how [Mexican] heroin production has evolved in recent year[s],” as the information available is too unreliable or inconclusive.
“The potential production of 42 metric tons may be an overestimate or an underestimate of the actual figure. There are no recent, reliable crop yield studies of opium poppy in Mexico, thus it is impossible to estimate potential heroin production in Mexico with high confidence.”
So, clearly, the DEA is taking a shot in the dark in their estimations. They state right in their disclaimer that they really have NO clue what is going on south of the border and that they are relying purely on quantification of interdiction numbers to extrapolate drug production. With the DEA focusing on the MYTH that US opioids are coming solely from Mexico, it’s not surprising that they produce charts akin the following graph.
As you can see, their data set is three years old. They also show an almost exclusive market for South American opioid products. Since interdiction of narcotics crossing the Mexican-American border is focused on that specific region, one could even assume that the data is skewed to favor showing even higher levels of Mexican-transshipped heroin compared with heroin inbound from SW Asia (Afghanistan).
For the past decade, this has been the typical report by media sources taking their data from international drug watchdogs. But now the data has started to change and the UNODC report reflects this more accurately for the first time. This is significant because now the United States may finally have to confront the fact that it’s protracted conflict in Afghanistan has directly contributed to a deadly epidemic for not only the rest the world, but for it’s own citizen here at home.
Above is an enlarged version of the title map, showing Afghan heroin entering North America. What’s also interesting is the fact that the UN report shows trafficking destinations in Canada, something previously theorized by this site.
Enjoy the new UNODC format and “key figures” section. Also note that for the first time, they have included a graphic on the impact of illicit substance production on virtuous/vicious cycles as well as information on alternative development.