Seizures and market information (164)

Production, trafficking and seizures of opiates  |  Price and purity of heroin

Production, trafficking and seizures of opiates

Afghanistan has become by far the world leader in the supply of illicit opium, especially as the total area under cultivation increased again in 2004. Global production of illicit opium in 2004 was estimated to be about 4 850 tonnes (4 766 tonnes in 2003), to which Afghanistan contributed 87 % and Myanmar 8 %. Global opium production has remained stable over the last five years, except in 2001, when a ban on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, enforced by the Taliban regime, resulted in a dramatic but short-lived decline. Global potential manufacture of heroin was estimated at 485 tonnes in 2004 (477 tonnes in 2003) (CND, 2005).

Heroin consumed in the EU is predominantly manufactured in Afghanistan (increasingly) or along trafficking routes for opium, notably in Turkey (UNODC, 2003a; INCB, 2005), and enters Europe by two major trafficking routes. The historically important Balkan route continues to play a crucial role in heroin smuggling. Following transit through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, the route then diverges into a southern branch, through Greece, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, part of Italy, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia–Herzegovina, and a northern branch, through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. The INCB (2005) reports that, in 2003, the northern branch of the Balkan route became the dominant one for heroin trafficking. Since the mid-1990s, heroin has increasingly been smuggled to Europe through the ‘Silk route’ via Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Russian Federation, Belarus or Ukraine (Reitox national reports, 2004; UNODC, 2003a; CND, 2005; INCB, 2005). Although these routes are the most important, several countries in eastern and western Africa and the Americas have made seizures of heroin destined for Europe in 2003 (CND, 2005; INCB, 2005).

In addition to imported heroin, some opiate drugs are produced within the EU. This is mainly confined to the limited production of home-made poppy products (e.g. poppy straw, poppy concentrate from crushed poppy stalks or heads) in a number of eastern EU countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Reitox national reports, 2004). In particular, such products seem to have regained popularity in 2003 in Estonia.

In volume terms, in 2003, Asia (56 %) and Europe (34 %) continued to account for most of the heroin seized worldwide. Europe’s share is on the increase, in particular because of increased heroin seizures in eastern and south-eastern European countries (CND, 2005). Since 1998, the EU country accounting for the greatest number of seizures and quantity of heroin seized has been the United Kingdom, followed by Spain in terms of number of seizures and Italy in terms of quantities intercepted (165). In 2002, the United Kingdom was responsible for about 30 % of both heroin seizures and the total amount of heroin seized in the EU.

Quantities of heroin seized (166) in the EU have generally been on the increase over the last five years, with a plateau in 2000–02, while, overall, numbers of seizures have been declining during the same period. Based upon trends in countries from which data are available, both seizures and quantities of heroin intercepted in the EU seem to have decreased in 2003 (167).

Seizures of fentanyl and methylfentanyl – synthetic opiates that are up to 100 times more potent than heroin – were reported again in 2003 in Estonia, while Latvia reported its first seizure of 3-methylfentanyl in 2003 and Austria its first seizure of fentanyl in January 2004. In Estonia, the poor quality of the heroin available on the local market has been compensated for since 2002 by the introduction of these two synthetic opiates, under the names ‘white Chinese’, ‘white Persian’ or ‘synthetic heroin’ (Reitox national reports, 2004).

Although data on seizures of benzodiazepines – usually used as substitutes by heroin users – are not systematically collected by the EMCDDA, Spain, Lithuania, Sweden and Norway reported having made such seizures (in particular of Rohypnol) in 2003.


(164) See ‘Interpreting seizures and market data’.

(165) Although this should be checked against missing 2003 data when available. Data on numbers of heroin seizures in 2003 were not available for Italy, Cyprus,the Netherlands and Romania; data on both number of heroin seizures and quantities of heroin seized in 2003 were not available for Ireland and the United Kingdom.

(166) See Table SZR-4 (part i) in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(167) See Table SZR-3 (part i) in the 2005 statistical bulletin.