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Heroin Movements

Methods of Conveyance: WorldwideThe routes, volume and methods for transshipment of heroin vary between the producing regions. Heroin from all three regions (Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia and Latin America) reaches the U.S. using all forms of air, maritime and overland conveyances.

CIA reported in 1998 the following percentages of worldwide seizures by conveyance: land 71%, unspecified 16%, air 7%, maritime 5%, laboratory 1% and mail less than 1%.

Maritime- Maritime conveyances represent a small fraction of the heroin shipments seized. They remain the principal method of transporting large amounts of Southeast Asian heroin to consuming markets. Maritime conveyances are favored in this producing region due to: high volume of commercial maritime traffic which provides natural camouflage for heroin concealed in shipping containers, and facilitated ability to obscure the origin of illicit cargo due to multiple port transfers.

Land- Traffickers conceal shipments within commercial and private vehicles; hide the drug on or in their body as they walk across the border. Reason for favoring land conveyances: facilitated smuggling between countries and regions due to heavy foot and vehicle traffic at border crossings.

Air- Individual couriers or "mules" are used to smuggle small amounts of heroin (1 to 2 kilograms) on commercial air flights. The drug is hidden in personal belongings, hidden on their bodies or ingested.

Methods of Conveyance: Afghanistan (The Golden Route)

Although significant amounts of morphine base continue to be smuggled out of Afghanistan, the DEA reports that recent information confirms an increasing amount of morphine base is converted to heroin in Afghanistan prior to export. Shipments out of Afghanistan are therefore either morphine base, or processed heroin.

Afghan shipments are trafficked via many routes, with traffickers adjusting smuggling routes based on law enforcement and political actions.


Smuggling route: through Iran and Turkey to Europe via the Balkans

Most Southwest Asian heroin and opium shipments flow overland through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to Europe via the Balkans.

Heroin Flow- Traffickers in Afghanistan primarily rely on vehicles and overland routes to move drug shipments out of the country. Predominantly, illicit drug convoys transit southern and western Pakistan, while smaller shipments of heroin are sent through the frontier provinces to Karachi for onward shipment to the United States. Most of the Afghan heroin that makes it way to the U.S. originates in Nangarhar Province and transits Pakistan.

Morphine base flow- Turkey: Morphine base shipments can also be transported overland through Pakistan and Iran, or directly to Iran from Afghanistan, and then into Turkey. Turkey-based trafficking groups convert the morphine base to heroin prior to shipment to European and North American markets.

Heroin shipments are then smuggled from Turkey in bonded trucks, buses or personal vehicles to Western Europe distribution. Although regional conflicts have forced traffickers to modify delivery routes, the Balkans remain the primary passageway for Southwest Asian heroin bound for Western Europe.

Morphine base flow- Iran: DEA reports large convoys of well-armed passenger trucks loaded with opiates driven across western Afghanistan into Iran. The Crime and Narcotics Center has reported an increase of opiate smuggling through Iran. CNC estimates that 40% of Afghanistan's opiate production enters Iran.

Smuggling route: through the Central Asian states to Russia and Eastern Europe

Smuggling routes north through the Central Asian States, then across the Caspian Sea and south into Turkey also are used. An increasing amount of morphine base is now being converted to heroin in Afghanistan prior to export.

Factors behind the Central Asian smuggling route: loose border controls, lack of regional counternarcotics resources, growing Russian heroin market has facilitated the movement of drugs through Central Asia by vehicle, train and commercial air means.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have emerged as important smuggling routes for Southwest Asian heroin moving to or through Russia and Eastern Europe. CNC reports that northward flow of heroin has increased from 10% of Afghanistan's output to 25%.

Morphine base flow- Tajikistan Tajikistan serves mainly as a transit point and storage location, not a final destination. Tajikistan is a primary transshipment country for opiate shipments destined for Russia. Drug traffickers in Afghanistan will use produce laden trucks as a cover for drugs sent north toward Tajikistan, where it is then transferred to other criminal organizations. Tajik criminal organizations are the primary movers of this contraband. Tajikistan law enforcement reported 80% of Central Asian drug seizures are opiates. Approximately half of the heroin that passes through Tajikistan is consumed in Russia. Remaining shipments transit Russia to other consumer markets in Western and Eastern Europe. Heroin shipments also transit India en route to international destinations.


Morphine base flow- Pakistan Shipments of Afghan-produced morphine base are sent by sea from Pakistan's Makran Coast. An undetermined amount of Southwest Asian heroin flows directly from Pakistan to overseas markets concealed in maritime containers, or carried by couriers on commercial air flights to the Middle East, Europe, Africa, the US and Canada.


Heroin flow Most of the Southwest Asian heroin sent to the United States is smuggled by couriers on commercial flights or is shipped in mail packages. Seizures of heroin trafficked from Afghanistan to Pakistan are frequently reported at Pakistan's international airports.

Opiate Products: Primary Consuming Markets


Worldwide increase of opium production has resulted in greater heroin availability. The amount of consumed opium in the producing regions is undetermined. A significant amount of the drug appears to be converted to heroin and sent to the primary consuming markets: Europe and North America.

Global increases in heroin-related medical emergencies, arrests, and crime indicate heroin consumption remains a growing problem throughout the World. UNODC estimated 8 million heroin abusers worldwide, and an estimated 2 million heroin users in the United States alone. Of this figure 600 000 to 800 000 are reported to be hardcore addicts.

Rising purity levels and lower prices have fueled heroin's popularity on a global scale. Demographically, most heroin users in the United States belonged to an older age bracket. Higher purity levels of the drug allow heroin to be smoked, snorted or injected, which has triggered an increase in heroin use among younger groups. In recent years lower prices for heroin have made the drug affordable to a younger demographic of Americans.

The Afghanistan Influence

In 1998 the CIA accounted Europe and Africa to amount for 56% of worldwide seizures of heroin (Southwest Asia 18%, Southeast Asia 15%, United States 10%, Latin America 1%).

The DEA reported that the majority of the opiate products seized in Europe originated in Afghanistan. Most of the opiates produced in Afghanistan are smuggled to markets in the West, although some is consumed in Afghanistan as both opium and heroin.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:32:34 ZULU