New UN Drug Report Underscores Central Asia’s Addiction

United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual World
Drug Report
[9] today. There are not a lot of surprises for Central Asia
watchers, but the study is a good reminder of just how entrenched Afghan
narcotics are in the region.

remains the world’s largest producer of illicit opiates, accounting for 74
percent of global production in 2012. Those narcotics continue to pass
relatively unhindered from Afghanistan through Central Asia for markets in
Russia and Eastern Europe. On the way, they wreak havoc, as increasing numbers
of Central Asians succumb to heroin addiction and HIV.  

being done? The striking chart to the right shows how, over the past ten years,
interdiction in the region has actually fallen, especially in Tajikistan (shown
in pink).

Over the
same period, Afghan drug production generally increased (with the exception of
2012, when, due to adverse weather and disease, production fell by 36 percent).
“A preliminary assessment of opium poppy cultivation trends in Afghanistan in
2013 revealed that such cultivation is likely to increase in the main opium
growing regions, which would be the third consecutive increase since 2010,” the
report says.

then, the dramatic decline in seizures in Central Asia? The UNODC sort of
sidesteps issue:

heroin seizures in Central Asia have been declining since the first decade of
the twenty-first century, from an annual average of 5 tons per year during the
period 2002-2006 to only 3 tons during the period 2007-2011, while demand in
Central Asia and the Russian Federation is thought to be stable or increasing.
The small peak in seizures in 2008 seems to reflect the high opium production
in Afghanistan in that and the preceding year but did not change the overall
declining trend. The link between production in Afghanistan and seizure levels
in Central Asia is not evident and other factors are assumed to have played a

including David Lewis have convincingly argued that those “other factors”
include drug traffickers with protection at some of the highest levels of
government in weak states like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

leaves open other possibilities, too, noting that traffickers are “increasingly
looking for new routes to supplement the old ones.” That might explain the
growing role of eastern Africa in the trade, which is seeing increasing
seizures and a marked rise in opiate abuse in coastal regions, the UNODC says.

But the
social impact of heroin in Central Asia and Russia makes it clear an awful lot
of narcotics still pass through the region.

2008 and 2011, Russia saw an increase in over 500,000 adult injecting drug
users (mostly heroin), to 2.3 percent of the adult population, says the report.
There, 21 percent of injecting drug users are HIV positive. Central Asia has an
injecting drug rate four times the global average, at 1.3 percent. In Kyrgyzstan,
15 percent of the prison population lives with HIV.

the backdrop of these grim statistics, Central Asian officials can reap some
mild relief from the report’s finding that “new psychoactive substances” – a
disturbing trend in synthetic drug use that is particularly hard to police –
haven’t got a foothold in the region.

By David Trilling

2012 ©

Originally published by

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