Drug enforcement authorities in Tajikistan say the volume of illegal narcotics they interdicted in 2021 increased by almost 69 percent year-on-year, but instability in Afghanistan could provoke a worsening in the problem of drug-smuggling.

Speaking at a news conference in Dushanbe, Habibullo Vohidzoda, the head of the Drug Control Agency under the President of Tajikistan, on February 17 appealed for international assistance in combating what he said could be a new surge of trafficking provoked by the evolving situation in Afghanistan.

“With the change in the situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s ascent to power, we must strengthen our borders in every way, not only against drug smuggling, but also weapons and other prohibited material. And so, in our meetings with donors … one of the issues that has been discussed is support for the organization of new [Drug Control Agency] outposts along the border,” the drug control kingpin said.  

He cited the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, as saying opium crops were cultivated across an area of 177,000 hectares in Afghanistan last year.   

“Estimated opium production in 2021 was 6,800 tons or 8 percent more than in 2020, meaning production has exceeded 6,000 tons for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. This amount of opium could be converted into some 270-320 tons of pure heroin,” the UNODC said in the report, Drug Situation in Afghanistan 2021: Latest Findings and Emerging Threats, which was released in November. 

The UNODC noted in the report that continued uncertainty since August 2021 has driven up opium prices in August and September and is increasing incentives for cultivation, just as the crisis exacerbates poverty and food insecurity, potentially leaving more people vulnerable to drug use disorders.   

The report says income from opiates in Afghanistan amounted to some US$1.8-US$2.7 billion in 2021.  However, much larger sums are reportedly accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan. Taxes on opiates cultivation, production and trafficking represent a lucrative potential source of financing for non-state actors in the country, according to the report.

The illicit drug economy has reportedly become increasingly complex, with methamphetamine manufacture in Afghanistan sharply increasing in recent years.  High regional and global demand for methamphetamine, coupled with a saturated market for opiates, could push further expansion of manufacture of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.

According to the report, methamphetamine originating in Afghanistan has been reported over the period 2019 - 2021 in neighboring Iran and Pakistan, Central Asia (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) and Transcaucasia (Azerbaijan), and as far afield as Europe (Czech Republic and France), South-East Asia

(Indonesia), South Asia (Sri Lanka), and Oceania (Australia).