Find out how Afghan opium and heroin pass from farmer to buyer, to smuggler and user en route to Russia, where heroin addiction is at an all-time high.
A young Afghan girl harvests opium in Nangahar Province. Afghan farmers collect about $180 million per year from the opium trade, according to the U.N. Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). Opium profits for farmers are five times higher than profits for wheat, Afghanistan's second biggest cash crop.
Photo: Amir Shah/ Associate Press
Opium prices in markets in Badakhsan province, not far from the border with Tajikistan, were quoted at $240 per kilogram in May -- fat earnings in a country where the annual per capita income is just $800. Prices elsewhere in Afghanistan can go as high as $605 per kilogram, according to the UNDCP. Here, a farmer sells 10 kilo bags of opium in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, where prices range from $275 to $500 a kilogram.
Photo: Patrick Aventurier/ Gamma
Depending on demand, Afghan drug mafias sell raw opium, morphine base or the final opiate product, heroin, to criminal organizations and terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) that smuggle the products out of the country to other markets or to heroin processing labs.Here, almond shells have been filled with heroin and placed in ordinary retail packaging to prevent disclosure.
Photo: Christian Charisius/Reuters
Drug Traffic Route
To reach lucrative markets in Russia and Europe, an estimated 60 percent of Afghan opium and heroin go through Central Asia, crossing borders like this one between Tajikistan -- a focal point for opium trafficking -- and Kyrgyzstan. In Tajikistan, one kilogram of heroin can sell for $5,000 -- significant revenue in a poverty-stricken country where annual per capita incomes reach only $1,140.
Photo: David Brauchli/Associated Press
A Russian Federal Security Service agent shows a confiscated pack of Afghan heroin trafficked into Russia via Kazakhstan by six drug traffickers carrying a total of 23 kilograms -- worth about $115,000 in Kazakh markets. In 2001, heroin flows to Kazakhstan from Afghanistan doubled and sales tripled, according to government sources quoted by the Kazakh newspaper EKSPRESS K.
Photo: Ivanov Vitaly/ Itar-Tass
Fueled by economic collapse and social upheaval, drug-related crimes have soared in recent years in Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in Russia's Ural Mountains. Along with Moscow and St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg is one of Russia's chief narcotics markets. Here, narcotic officers arrest a Tajik drug smuggler accused of trafficking heroin.
Photo: Alexei Vladykin/Associated Press
Russia has Europe's highest number of heroin addicts -- 1.8 percent of the population, according to UNDCP. Here, a man injects heroin in an apartment in Moscow, where prices for a kilo of heroin can run up to $30,000. Moscow only emerged as a major market for Afghan-origin heroin in the early 1990s, a period of overwhelming social and economic upheaval for Russia.