Golden Crescent represents the region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran where most of the heroin is being produced and delivered from.
It is estimated that almost 80% of the heroin is produced in Afghanistan and 99% of that heroin is being distributed to every part of the world, except Latin America since they have their own line of production.
Heroin from Afghanistan has three main routes of trafficking:
- Balkan route (through Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey),
- Northern route,
- Southern route.
Both Northern and Balkan routes have been mainly used for trafficking heroin to Europe and Russia; Balkan route has been dominant for supplying Western European market, which is the largest heroin consumption market in the world.
However, things have recently changed, and now the Southern route has become dominant in all heroin trafficking.
More and more heroin is finding its way through Pakistan and Islamic Republic of Iran to Africa and only then to Europe, which is certainly not the only destination of Afghan heroin; Afghanistan also supplies the entire Asia and even some low percentage of heroin ends up in Oceania as well, mainly in Australia.
Production of heroin is taking place strictly in regions/provinces that are against the current Afghan government.
They disobey the law and they have found their own way of making easy, although dirty money.
Heroin is trafficked to other countries by various possible means:
- by sea (included in cargo or on small boats),
- by air (included in cargo, in luggage and hidden on the body),
- by land (in vehicles, through trade, crossing unguarded borders, in luggage and hidden on the body)
- by mail
The South Route
Afghanistan borders with Pakistan and Islamic Republic of Iran and these two neighboring countries have become two major transit points for Afghan heroin trafficking.
A large amount of heroin goes from Pakistan to India, where it is further distributed to China, South Asia, Indonesia and even Oceania.
According to a report from India, 3.4 tons of heroin was seized in the Indian Ocean during last year.
This heroin was found on 18 different vessels which mainly sailed off from the unofficial ports of Iran and Pakistan.
Afghan heroin from Pakistan also goes to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Some seizures confirm that heroin continues its journey to South Asia, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan and also to East and South East Asia, including Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia.
According to certain evidence increasingly more heroin found in Spain and Italy comes by The South Route, through Pakistan and Africa, rather than the Balkan route which used to serve these two countries with heroin.
Still, it is not officially confirmed that the Balkan route has become significantly less used, because tracking can be very hard since many routes overlap each other, especially in Gulf and Middle Asia.
According to last year’s seizures, 60% of heroin in Europe comes from Pakistan, 16% from East Africa, 10% from South Asia and 7% from Southern Africa.
North America is not the primary market for Afghan heroin since the distance is significant.
However, a certain amount of heroin that ends up in the US and Canada comes from Afghanistan.
According to some Canadian reports, 70% of Afghan heroin comes by air and 30% by mail; it can be traced back to Afghanistan, through Pakistan and Middle Asia.
The Balkan Route
The Balkan route has probably been popular because of the high probability of success if the drug passes Turkey without problems.
Turkey seized 14 metric tons of heroin only last year and once the drug leaves Turkey, its probability of being seized drops significantly.
The whole thing has been possible due to the poor economic state in each of the Southern Europe countries – low wages, high corruption and organized crime.
A number of Balkan countries put a lot of effort in stopping this route.
The leader of trafficking organization, for example, Darko Saric was arrested in Serbia with his accomplices a couple of years ago.
It is believed that the heroin is transferred from Balkan region to Western Europe through diaspora, mainly from Albania and Kosovo.
Namely, many citizens of Albania and Kosovo have relatives in Western Europe and they have well-organized criminal groups throughout the whole Europe.
The Northern Route
The Northern Route is mainly responsible for supplying heroin to Central Asia and further to Russian Federation.
Again, heroin travels from Afghanistan to Iran, where it is further distributed to Central Asian and Balkan route; still the larger portion of it goes through the Balkan route.
In Central Asia, however, drug route is the cause of many conflicts, the largest of which took place in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Apart from the Golden Crescent, there is also a Golden Triangle which represents Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, significant contributors to heroin market.
Golden Triangle used to be leading producer until the early 21th century when Afghanistan took over its place.
Unlike Afghan heroin, which travels by modern means of transportation, heroin produced in Myanmar is transferred by horses or donkeys to the borders of Burma and Thailand for further production and transportation.
Most of the finished products are then shipped to North Thailand and Bangkok.
California and Hawaii are the primary destinations for the Golden Triangle heroin and certain amount is transported to New York and Washington DC.
This is mainly done by Bangkok citizens who are smuggling heroin via commercial flights.
Still, most of this heroin stays in South Asia and South East Asia.
Luckily, in these parts of the world growing opium poppies, production of heroin and smuggling it, has become significantly more difficult since 2015 when China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos launched a program to restrain illegal trafficking.
Since the onset of this program more than 600 arrests were made and 590 of those cases are considered solved.
Latin American Cartels
While some US heroin markets are regularly supplied by Myanmar heroin, 50% of US heroin comes from Mexico, and the rest comes from Columbia.
Since 2006 Columbia used to be the biggest supplier for the US, but the production in Columbia has drastically dropped and ever since then most of US heroin now comes from Sinaloa Cartel.
Sinaloa is a Mexican state and it is estimated that they have more than 42,008 acres dedicated to growing opium poppies which can produce more than 46 metric tons of heroin.
Mexicans have not only expanded their production, but they have also changed the product; they switched from Latin American tar heroin to white powder heroin more similar to the heroin produced in Asia.
They also established a trafficking network which targeted smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and the East.
Now Sinaloa Cartel has taken over the New York City heroin market, while it happened even earlier in cities like Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
Sinaloa Cartel is considered to be the most powerful trafficking cartels in the Western Hemisphere and even world.
Their smugglers are trained professionals who are hard to catch.
Washington Post published a story about a smuggler who was able to swallow one kilo of heroin in small packages; he had to strictly drink water during his 3,600 miles journey.
Had he drank soda or even an orange juice, the plastic wrappings would have burst and the heroin would have killed him.
He was also instructed which routes to take, which airports are safer and so on.
Although production of heroin has significantly dropped in Columbia, its drug cartels still play a role in the US heroin market.
Despite the government’s great pressure to repress heroin production and distribution, Columbian Cartels somehow manage to outsmart both Columbian and US law enforcements and they are still considered the world’s 4th producer of heroin.
According to LE, the Cartel’s trick is to plant small plantations scattered all over the unapproachable Andes.
It is very hard to spot a four-acre field from the helicopter and it is equally dangerous to fly the helicopter too low.
The four-acre field is enough to make one kilo of heroin per year, which will definitely end up in the US.
According to police reports, most of the Columbian heroin goes to Maryland which is a state known for drug abuse.
Many homes were tormented by this even grown and produced in Columbia; yet despite great efforts very little has changed.
On the contrary, the American heroin market has grown even larger.
It is estimated that heroin consumption has grown for about 450-500 percent and its price fell from $167,000 to $65,000 while the street value is $10 – $15!
Columbian police have air sprayed more than 3,600 acres of opium poppies fields and destroyed them, but they fear that there are plenty more fields out there which are very hard to find.
Heroin markets in the US and Western Europe will continue to be supplied from the four largest growing and producing centers of heroin.
They are well organized, dangerous and they are not afraid of anyone.