KABUL – Afghanistan has surged to become the world’s primary hub for methamphetamine production, according to a recent report released by the United Nations drug agency. This disturbing development comes in spite of the Taliban’s declared war on narcotics upon their return to power in August 2021.
The report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, highlights that methamphetamine production in Afghanistan primarily relies on legally available substances or the extraction of chemicals from the ephedra plant, which grows wild in the region.
The rapid rise of methamphetamine manufacturing in Afghanistan is causing growing concerns for both national and regional health and security. It has the potential to disrupt the synthetic drug market and contribute to addiction problems. Seizures of meth believed to originate from Afghanistan have been reported in the European Union and East Africa.
According to the report, annual meth seizures within Afghanistan have surged from under 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in 2019 to a staggering 2,700 kilograms (6,000 pounds) in 2021, indicating a significant increase in production. However, accurate data regarding the total meth supply, production quantities, and domestic usage remains elusive.
Angela Me, Chief of the UNODC’s Research and Trend Analysis Branch, explained that meth production offers advantages over heroin or cocaine production due to its simplicity and mobility. Unlike other drugs, meth production does not require agricultural resources; it only needs skilled individuals and knowledge. Moreover, Afghanistan’s abundance of the ephedra plant, not found in major meth-producing countries like Myanmar and Mexico, provides a readily available ingredient. Despite these advantages, the impact of the Taliban’s anti-drug efforts on meth supplies remains uncertain.
In response to these concerns, Abdul Mateen Qani, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, emphasized the Taliban-run government’s prohibition of all intoxicants and narcotics in Afghanistan. He reported that authorities have already taken action, destroying 644 factories and over 12,000 acres of land related to prohibited narcotics. Over 5,000 raids have led to the arrest of 6,000 individuals. However, he acknowledged the difficulty of completely eradicating such activities in a short period, despite the government’s four-year strategic plan to eliminate narcotics, including methamphetamine.
The situation in Afghanistan remains complex, with a recent U.N. report revealing a 32% increase in opium cultivation since the Taliban’s takeover. Opium prices have also risen, resulting from a cultivation ban announced in April 2022. The illicit drug market has thrived amidst Afghanistan’s economic downturn, driven by years of war, natural disasters, and the suspension of international financing. The combination of drought, economic hardship, and decades of conflict is pushing many Afghans into poverty, hunger, and addiction.
An anonymous Afghan health official disclosed that approximately 20,000 people, mainly addicted to crystal meth, are currently receiving treatment in hospitals. Among them, 350 are women, and even children are seeking treatment, though specific numbers and ages were not provided.