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UN Drug Agency Reports Afghanistan as the Fastest-Growing Producer of Methamphetamine

ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan is currently the world’s fastest-growing producer of methamphetamine, according to a report from the United Nations drug agency released on Sunday. Despite the Taliban’s declaration of war on narcotics after coming to power in August 2021, the country remains a major producer of opium and heroin.

The report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), states that meth production in Afghanistan primarily relies on legally available substances or the ephedra plant found in the wild.

The increase in meth manufacturing poses a substantial threat to national and regional health and security, potentially disrupting the synthetic drug market and fueling addiction. There have been reports of meth seizures suspected to originate from Afghanistan in the European Union and East Africa.

The report indicates a significant rise in annual meth seizure totals within Afghanistan, with production jumping from less than 100 kilograms in 2019 to nearly 2,700 kilograms in 2021. However, due to a lack of data, the report does not provide information on the value of the country’s meth supply, the quantities being produced, or its domestic usage.

Angela Me, the chief of the UNODC’s Research and Trend Analysis Branch, highlighted several advantages of meth production in Afghanistan over heroin or cocaine production. She explained that meth labs are mobile, easily hidden, and do not require specific land or cultivation time since Afghanistan has a plentiful supply of the ephedra plant.

Regarding the impact of the Taliban’s drug crackdown on meth supplies, Me stated that it is too early to assess.

The spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, Abdul Mateen Qani, announced that the Taliban government has prohibited the cultivation, production, sale, and use of all intoxicants and narcotics in the country. He reported that authorities have already destroyed 644 factories and around 12,000 acres of land used for prohibited narcotics cultivation. Moreover, there have been over 5,000 raids resulting in the arrest of 6,000 individuals.

However, Qani acknowledged the difficulty of completely eradicating drug activities within such a short period, conceding that people could still engage in these activities clandestinely. He stated that a four-year strategic plan has been implemented to eliminate narcotics, including meth, from Afghanistan.

In November, a U.N. report revealed a 32% increase in opium cultivation since the Taliban takeover, with opium prices rising following the announcement of a cultivation ban in April 2022. Farmers’ income from opium sales tripled from $425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022. The report also noted that the illicit drug market has flourished due to Afghanistan’s economic contraction, which has left people desperate and vulnerable.

Afghanistan is grappling with severe economic hardship, ongoing drought, and the enduring consequences of decades of war and natural disasters. The combination of these factors, coupled with the halt of international financing that previously supported the economy under the Western-backed government, has led to increasing poverty, hunger, and addiction.

An Afghan health official, speaking anonymously, indicated that around 20,000 people are receiving treatment for drug addiction in hospitals, with a significant portion being addicted to crystal meth. The official also noted that women and children, including an undisclosed number of minors, are among those seeking treatment.

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