Report: Afghanistan’s Booming Meth Industry May Rival Its Heroin Trade

Afghanistan is emerging as a significant global producer of methamphetamine, according to a study published on Tuesday by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Afghan drug traffickers have in recent years discovered that the ephedra plant — commonly found growing wild in certain parts of the country — can be used to create ephedrine, the key component of the drug methamphetamine.

Known as crystal meth, methamphetamine is a cheaper drug than heroin, which has long been at the heart of Afghanistan’s highly lucrative illegal drug trade. According to the EMCDDA report, Afghanistan’s emerging meth trade is growing rapidly, meaning it could eventually rival the country’s established heroin industry.

“The realization that you could produce methamphetamine from a wild crop in the mountains has been a fundamental gamechanger,” Dr. David Mansfield, lead author of the EMCDDA study, told the BBC on Tuesday.

An expert on Afghanistan’s drug industry, Dr. Mansfield explained that drug traffickers in the country previously extracted ephedrine from expensive imported medicines. Their recent discovery that the ephedra plant grows wild in Afghanistan has enabled them to use the crop, a far cheaper alternative source of ephedrine, and some “simple chemistry” to create meth, he said.

While other cultures use the ephedra plant to create crystal meth, the scale of Afghanistan’s still emerging ephedrine industry surpasses any other previously documented, according to the EMCDDA.

The report’s researchers mapped out over 300 suspected ephedrine labs in just one Afghan district in the country’s southwest, Bakwa, using satellite imagery and information gleaned from interviews with Afghan drug producers in August. Dr. Mansfield said his team has also begun to identify meth labs elsewhere in the country.