Side Event: Emergence of methamphetamine production in South-West Asia

Organized by the UNODC Country Office Afghanistan

Focus of the side event is to look at production of methamphetamine in Afghanistan.

Moderator: Anubha Sood

Afghanistan, Ambassador Manizha Bakhtari

I will provide an overview of the current drug situation in Afghanistan and synthetic market in Afghanistan and the region. There are positive results of seizures and interdiction in Afghanistan. Clear link between poppy cultivation and seizures. Increases in cultivation in Northern Afghanistan have been seen since 2015. Insecurity has expanded. Security situation has had a negative impact on law enforcement and exhausted our troops. Counter terrorism and related activities. Poppy production seems to be stable, meth production seems to be increasing. In past, methamphetamine was smuggled into Afghanistan but not produced in Afghanistan, it’s concerning. Central Asian friends are successful in declining trafficking through the northern group. Counter narcotics group is successful. Emergence of meth prod in region calls for more programs. Calls for new policies and stronger partnerships at national and international level. Our active engagement to address and counter the world drug problem, based on shared responsibility.

Mira Kato, Director of Operations UNODC

Based in Kabul, used to work for UN Women.

Want to strengthen relationship with Afghanistan Ambassador. UNODC feels that it is very important to gain political commitment from MS and counterparts to bring more awareness of policy makers of growing threat of methamphetamine production. Need to trigger required resourcing to address new threat. Relatively new – but we are seeing exponential growth. Afghanistan in 2012- seizures of methamphetamine just 30g. By 2019, (most recent data) we saw one tonne. In less than a decade, this accounts for a 40,000-fold increase. More challenging in shrinking resources and increased threats from COVID pandemic. Likely to see further negative consequences if we don’t take proportionate action to address this threat. Already seeing increased rates of methamphetamine use in Afghanistan. Already allocate significant resources to address this issue. We’ve given appropriate resources already to guide relevant responses at all levels. Working with counter narcotics police in Afghanistan. Work of this lab revealed that only 30% of the tablets in Afghanistan contain MDMA. Even higher potential for harm within the communities. Increased number of drug users who face more serious concerns from mixed drugs. Phenomenon is concerning us. UNDOC is currently reviewing our process for what we do in the region. Will be guided by UNODC Strategy 2021-2025. New programming for Asia will take findings into account.

Sami Poplazai, Counter Narcotics Police Afghanistan Representative, Director General

[translated into English]

Discussing challenges and threats of emerging trends. To understand threat better we will look at comparison rates. In 2020 there were 1207 kg of methamphetamine seized. Ephedra used as a precursor to methamphetamine. Key component of production of methamphetamine. We have an opportunity to control ephedra as a precursor. Afghanistan is at the forefront of war against drugs in all facets, but we can’t combat it alone – need a partnership approach. Despite efforts and achievements. Insufficient resources and diversion of precursors. Exchange of information Addiction treatment and lack of capacity in prevention. Success in countering in general depends on balanced integrated efforts on both supply and demand sides.

Drug Trade is linked with terrorism in my country. Along with law enforcement efforts we need to address poverty and alternative development. Intensified efforts are needs. Link between cultivation and demand is drug trafficking. Information sharing is important to effectively counter narcotics. Awareness raising among young people is necessary. Ned to make most use of potential. International community – I hope your support can continue for our strategies and action plans.

Karly Redwood, Australian Federal Police (AFP)

I am an intelligence analyst with the AFP, attached to the Forensic Drug Intelligence team. It’s a unique team – combine information from seizures paired with information our from National Measurement Institute (NMI) in Sydney to manage trends in manufacture methodologies and pair with a lot of information on source countries and concealment. Australians have the highest per capita use of drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine. Perceived isolation makes lucrative to transnational organised crime groups. We have wastewater reporting from intelligence agencies. We continue to see large seizures for methamphetamine. Australian market – high prices and stable user base. 2018 – AFP seized 3.3 tonnes (methamphetamine), 2019: 5.6 tonnes, 2020: 4.8 tonnes by AFP. These stats related to seizures investigated by AFP. Total amount detected at border likely to be much higher – sometimes can be sent to state police. E.g New South Wales (NSW) Police – liquid methamphetamine seizure “Project [Kasia]”.

Typically, we have seen stimulants trafficked through SE Asia – Myanmar, Malaysia, Mexico via the USA and Canada. Now, there is a large increase from Netherlands and Afghanistan and Iran and UAE. Historically seizures from Iran are manufactured from a synthetic source – from a large scale of cold and flu medications. But since early 2019 onwards from Iran – now from natural ephedra plant. Watching brief on profiling results – identified increase in number of seizures directly into Australia. Increase in seizures transhipped from Afghan. Through the relationship we have with NMI – tactically comparing to broader seizures in our database. Looking at different transhipment routes – haven’t identified any yet. Looking at Afghanistan seizures as a reference profile to reference from. Unlike heroin and cocaine, coming from leaf and poppy, the soil relates to growing region – we don’t have enough soil samples for ephedra to tell. Shift in Chinese market to more synthetic compounds. In the SE Asia region we see [MD] method. Specific profiling routes – indicates manufacture of precursors – from Mexico, US and Canada – difficult to specifically relate to seizures. Looking at profiling Afghan, Iranian and UAE samples to identify whether there are significant shipment routes – particularly through the southern route. Note seizures near Indonesia. We’re looking at this further. Seizures from domestic samples to identify possible convergences. See a lot of natural ephedra samples – looking at mapping these. Approx. 50kg of methamphetamine directly shipped from Afghan – seizures as impregnations – in plastics, resins, wooden items. Profiling info is more difficult to derive – working with NMI to see the market. Profiling and purity – of high purity – a lot of seizures almost 100% methamphetamine – high quality and purity. Dr David Mansfield identified high crystalline shards. Also interested in identifying role of shipments in region – seeing Japan. Interested in following transhipment routes.

Chat message from Andrew Cunningham: Photos of those crystals mentioned by Ms Redwood (produced in Bakwa, AFG) can be seen in this EMCDDA report on this topic: https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/13410/emcdda-methamphetamine-in-Afghanistan-report.pdf

Martin Raithelhuber – UNODC Global SMART program. Focus on early warning systems and trend analysis.

Global synthetic drugs assessment launched a few months ago. The emergence of methamphetamine manufacture in Afghanistan takes place in the context of a global expansion of its market. The affordability, availability and purity of synthetic drugs have increased globally, as have the health harms associated with their use. High prices in high-income countries such as Australia and Japan continue to attract methamphetamine trafficking from a wide range of regions.

Central Asia and Transcaucasia – The quantities of methamphetamine seized rapidly increased in the region in the past five years. Methamphetamine reportedly originated from Islamic Republic of Iran, and more recently from Afghanistan. Transit point for methamphetamine trafficking to Africa, East Asia, North America and Oceania? We see evidence we have on this phenomenon. Observe an increase in methamphetamine seizures related to trafficking from Iran. We don’t think there’s a large use in that region.

Shifts in South-West Asia: Since the 2017 UNODC synthetic drug assessment, there is evidence of methamphetamine use and manufacture in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s western provinces are particularly affected. Seizures in Iran increased in 2019. Figures from Afghanistan have increased incredibly – also in Pakistan.

UNODC Drugs Monitoring Platform – Pakistan making hundreds of seizures every year. Mostly small amount, sometimes kilo amounts. Huge bubbles of seizures in harbour cities – quite likely that maritime shipping is also occurring. Picture below.

Health harms in Saudi Arabia related to methamphetamine use. There has been a strong increase in methamphetamine seizures. More than 500% increase in the number of deaths involving methamphetamine between 2016 and 2018 in Jeddah.

Seizure made in Indonesia by a Middle East syndicate. You will notice the difference in packaging. Completely different type of packaging – not very common. Could be related to precursor – ephedrine. Picture below.

Impact of drug market in Afghanistan itself – high purity methamphetamine going into export – illicitly produced tablets in Afghanistan. Very worrying development – many opiate/heroin users are now using methamphetamine – could be a growing problem in the SW Asian region.

Q&A:

Q: To dear Ma’am Redwood, do you have seizures directly shipped from Myanmar? If so, let us know the case and the time it occurred. Thank you.

A: No not seeing shipments from Myanmar – typically from Thailand. Focus on Taskforce Blaze – seizures in China and Taiwan.

Q: Inshik Sim: Hello Karly [Redwood]. Thank you for the informative briefing. Has AFP encountered any methamphetamine manufactured with synthetic ephedrine and trafficked from South-West Asia since 2019? Thank you.

A: Don’t know – I’ll have to take that question on notice.

More information on precursors used in illicit methamphetamine manufacture, including Afghanistan can be found here: https://www.incb.org/documents/PRECURSORS/TECHNICAL_REPORTS/2020/AR_with_Annexes/Precursors_with_annex_E_eBook_final_rev.pdf

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