Monday, June 26, 2023

Cocaine market booming, Afghanistan meth on the rise - UN

Cocaine supply is increasing to meet booming worldwide demand and methamphetamine trafficking is expanding beyond established markets, including in Afghanistan where the drug is now being produced in significant quantities. Afghanistan’s producers began experimenting with extracting ephedrine from the abundant ephedra plant, and by 2018, most local meth labs were using the plant. Costs are a fraction of those anywhere else in the world. Meth production is a growth industry.

The number of people using drugs rose by 23% to 296 million in 2021 from 240 million in 2011 according to the annual World Drug Report.
Ephedra, known as oman in some areas of the country and bandak in others, grows abundantly across Afghanistan’s mountainous central highlands. It is behind the growth in the meth industry in Afghanistan. Materials are easy to obtain: the ephedra plant is legal in Afghanistan, and other chemicals including iodine, red phosphorus, and sulfuric acid, are widely available in the country. Aside from the key ingredient of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, meth production requires only a handful of chemicals, kitchen glassware, and a gas burner. Depending on the quality of the ephedra plant, between 115 and 270 kg are required to produce 1 kg of ephedrine, which yields about two-thirds of a kilogram of meth.
The dried ephedra is ground into a flour and soaked in a mixture of water, gasoline, salt, and caustic soda for 24 hours. The solution is filtered and transferred into a metal tank. The next stage involves heating with salt, sulfuric acid, and xylene, creating a residue that looks like dried yogurt. This is ephedrine, which is sold or converted into meth through a reaction with iodine and other chemicals.

Bakwa has become the hub of the meth trade in the country. The Taliban charge the drug traffickers a tax. The report estimates the Taliban are earning millions a year from Bakwa district alone. Afghanistan produces meth at a tenth of the price of production in Southeast Asia but at comparable quality.
Ephedra is harvested in at least eight Afghan provinces, dried in the central highlands, and then sold to labs in the south and southwest where ephedrine and meth are produced. The Taliban controls virtually all Afghan drug distribution. The group has become increasingly reliant on the production of ephedrine and meth as a source of income.