The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has issued a warning that the production of crystal methamphetamine, also known as meth, is increasing in Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s ban on drugs. While the ban has led to a decrease in opium poppy cultivation and heroin production, the UNODC report suggests that methamphetamine is filling the void left by these illicit drugs.
According to the UNODC, opium poppy cultivation has sharply decreased since the Taliban banned all drug manufacturing in April 2022. Opiates such as morphine, heroin, and oxycodone are derived from the opium poppy plant. However, the report does not provide a full account of opium cultivation in Afghanistan, as that information is still forthcoming.
Instead, the UNODC has focused its report on the surge in methamphetamine production and trafficking. UNODC executive director Ghada Waly emphasized the need for regional coordination to target the diversion and smuggling of chemical precursors, which is essential in curbing the expansion of illicit methamphetamine manufacture in and around Afghanistan.
The report highlights that seizures of Afghan-made meth began to rise in 2017 and have nearly caught up to heroin. In 2019, almost 90% of meth seizures in Iran originated from Afghanistan. Previously, most of the meth production used ephedrine and pseudoephedrine obtained from cold medications. However, there is evidence suggesting that domestically harvested ephedra plants are now playing a larger role in methamphetamine production.
The UNODC report attempts to calculate the amount of ephedra cultivation required to account for the seized meth and its total production. However, the report acknowledges that there are currently no robust or systematic estimates available.
As of April 2023, the reported price of one kilogram of meth in Afghanistan was around $700. UNODC has calculated that the cost of using ephedra as a raw material for meth production would range from $295 to $413 per kilo, while cold medications would cost between $538 and $748 per kilo. This makes ephedra sourcing relatively profitable for meth producers.
The Taliban came into power in August 2021, following the collapse of the US-backed government and the withdrawal of US military forces. Taliban troops took control of Kabul two weeks before the last American military flight departed from the Afghan capital’s airport.
In conclusion, the UNODC warns that despite the Taliban’s ban on drugs in Afghanistan, the production of methamphetamine is on the rise. The report highlights the need for regional coordination to tackle the diversion and smuggling of chemical precursors used in meth production. The cultivation of opium poppy has significantly decreased since the ban, but the void left by heroin appears to be filled by the growing production of crystal meth. It remains to be seen what measures will be taken to address this issue and combat the expansion of methamphetamine manufacture in and around Afghanistan.