Exporting methamphetamine from Afghanistan is a problem

Exporting methamphetamine from Afghanistan is a problem
Exporting methamphetamine from Afghanistan is a problem

For some years now, a way has been found in Afghanistan to produce pure methamphetamine starting from a spontaneous plant: the production costs of this drug have thus been reduced compared to the method used previously and this discovery could change many things, both for the market. international drug organization for both Afghanistan, which according to experts from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) could produce and possibly export thousands of tons per year of methamphetamine.

The Taliban government – which took office in August after taking over the country – has promised to crack down on the drug industry, but a possible collapse of the Afghan economy and a lack of international aid could favor the illegal production of this methamphetamine. : according to the EMCDDA it could also arrive in Italy, exploiting the already well-established channels of heroin trafficking, of which Afghanistan is the largest producer.

In Europe and Italy, the consumption of methamphetamine – a synthetic drug with a stimulating effect that quickly makes you addicted – is still marginal, but there are reasons to fear a sharp increase in its traffic.

Methamphetamine comes in the form of powder, tablets or more often crystals, called ice O crystal meth. It can be ingested, snorted, smoked or injected, causing a temporary increase in physical stamina and an intense feeling of well-being and self-confidence. It is used both in group contexts, to reduce inhibition and be more sociable, and to face prolonged shifts without perceiving fatigue: it is in fact also called “cocaine for the poor” (a gram costs between 30 and 40 euros, less half of the cocaine).

Its effects are very intense and prolonged, with serious health risks: it induces a state of euphoria and a reduction in sleep and appetite that can last up to 12 hours, causing an immediate risk of dehydration and hyperthermia, and long-term predisposing to severe heart, weight and mood disorders, a sharp increase in aggression and the onset of suicidal instincts. Abstinence can lead not only to physical ailments (to the teeth, kidneys and lungs, for example) but also to the so-called “amphetamine psychosis”, characterized by hallucinations and delusions.

Currently, European markets are mainly sourced from the Netherlands (which have a long tradition of smuggling) and the Czech Republic, where methamphetamine is also consumed in large quantities. The substance is often synthesized in small clandestine laboratories by chemical reduction of its precursor, ephedrine, which can be extracted from common over-the-counter drugs. From here it is then exported to all of Europe, but also to Asia and Oceania, where consumption is more frequent.

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However, the presence on the market of a high quality methamphetamine at a much lower price could change the situation. Criminal organizations could be pushed to diversify their offer when, along with heroin, methamphetamine crystals begin to arrive from Afghanistan.

This is what the EMCDDA fears, which in a recent report argues that “the signs indicate that Europe should be better prepared” for the possibility of an increase in methamphetamine on the drug market. David Mansfield, a researcher and socio-economist active in Afghanistan for over 30 years, also tells how production costs have more than halved thanks to this new method of extracting the active ingredient directly from the plant, and how this is leading to a sudden abundance of methamphetamine crystals.

The key ingredient to make methamphetamine is ephedrine. For centuries theephedra sinica, a spontaneous plant that grows on the mountain ranges of central and north-eastern Afghanistan, it has been used by indigenous peoples in the form of infusions and herbal teas to treat a vast number of diseases, from kidney stones to asthma, from bronchitis to blood pressure low. Its active ingredient, ephedrine, is not surprisingly contained in cough syrups and bronchodilators, which in the past were also used to produce methamphetamine. But the possibility of obtaining it from the active ingredient extracted directly from the plant was a revolution.

Few ingredients are added to the ground branches, relatively easy to find and cheap, and in a few simple steps you get a whitish paste, ephedrine. From here, the procedure is more complicated and dangerous, and is the same as for non-vegetable production systems: ephedrine must be treated in a sterile environment with the addition of various chemicals, including caustic soda and red phosphorus, and finally the liquid phase is evaporated and crystals are created.

It is still unclear how the Afghan drug traffickers realized that the shrub that grew on their mountains (and which they called Oman O Bandak) other than that ephedra sinica. The fact remains that since 2016 this shrub has been harvested in large quantities, its branches are dried and ground and the resulting powder is transported west to the provinces of Farah and Nimroz, on the border with Iran. Here it is bought by the so-called “cooks”, who with a simple, not very dangerous and relatively cheap process extract the ephedrine and sell it in turn to more expert chemists, who will then produce the methamphetamine crystals.

In the Bawka district of Farah province alone, 329 potential ephedrine mining facilities have been identified – enough to ensure an estimated monthly production of 98 tons of ephedrine, and thus about 65 tons of methamphetamine per month, the report said. of the EMCDDA. According to experts, Afghan drug traffickers could therefore obtain thousands of tons of crystals every year, enough to compete globally.

This industry is an important source of income for the rural regions of southwestern Afghanistan and, despite the Kabul government’s recent promise to end drug trafficking, the Taliban will not be able to counter it without antagonizing some of the region’s inhabitants. rural areas, essential for maintaining control of the country.

Before the American retreat, researcher David Mansfield told Reuters that “a future government will have to proceed with caution to avoid alienating its rural constituencies, also provoking violent reactions and rebellions..More realistically, they will be given the same tolerance enjoyed today by the opium poppy growers from which heroin is made. Moreover, both substances are a source of income for the Taliban, who tax their production and trafficking.

– Read also: The Taliban in Afghanistan are doing worse than expected

In addition to increasing domestic consumption, Afghan methamphetamine is already spreading to various parts of the world. A large shipment was seized in December 2020 in Sydney, where two Iranians were arrested for trying to bring 250 kilograms of the substance, worth around 120 million euros, into the country. Even in South Africa, where methamphetamine is among the most widely used drugs, the Afghan variety has spread, and so in other Southeast African countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Tasmania, as reported by a research by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC). Again, methamphetamine shifts to a pre-existing route of heroin trafficking.

There are indications that Afghan methamphetamine is also being consumed in Turkey, and “if it has reached Turkey, we can assume that it will also arrive in Europe,” he said. al Jazeera Laurent Laniel, EMCDDA analyst. Turkey, despite its efforts in the fight against drug trafficking, remains an essential passage within the so-called Balkan route that brings heroin to Europe from Iran: this substance, produced in Afghanistan from opium poppies, is brought together towards Iran, and from there it crosses Turkey to reach the Balkans, from where it branches off towards Western Europe.

According to experts from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, this same route could be exploited to allow the new Afghan methamphetamine to reach Europe as well.

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