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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2008 (or the last year available).


Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Opioid use and drug injection

Published: 10 November 2010

Supply and availability

Two forms of imported heroin have historically been offered on the illicit drugs market in Europe: the commonly available brown heroin (its chemical base form), which comes mainly from Afghanistan; and white heroin (a salt form), which typically originates from south-east Asia, though this form is considerably less common. In addition, some opioid drugs are produced within Europe, principally home-made poppy products (e.g. poppy straw, concentrate from crushed poppy stalks or heads) in some east European countries (e.g. Latvia, Lithuania).

Production and trafficking

Heroin consumed in Europe originates predominantly in Afghanistan, which accounts for most of the global illicit opium output. The other producing countries are Myanmar, which mainly supplies markets in east and south-east Asia, Pakistan, Laos, followed by Mexico and Colombia, which are considered the largest suppliers of heroin to the United States (UNODC, 2009). Global opium production is estimated to have decreased from a peak in 2007, mainly due to a decline in Afghan production, which has fallen from 8 200 tonnes to 6 900 tonnes in 2009. The most recent estimate of global potential heroin production is 657 tonnes, down from estimated levels of about 750 tonnes in 2007 and 2008 (UNODC, 2010).

Table 9: Production, seizure, price and purity of heroin
Production and seizures Heroin

(1) Since few countries report the retail price and the purity of white heroin, the data are not presented in the table. They can be consulted in Tables PPP-2 and PPP-6 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.
(2) Range of the middle half of the reported mean price or purity.

NB: Data are for 2008, except for the global production estimate (2009).

Sources: UNODC (2010b) for global values, Reitox national focal points for European data .

Global production estimate
Global quantity seized (tonnes)

Quantity seized (tonnes)
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)

Number of seizures
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)

54 400
(56 600)
Price and purity in Europe (1) Brown heroin
Mean retail price (EUR per gram)
(Interquartile range) (2)

Mean purity (%)


Heroin arrives in Europe mainly by two trafficking routes. The historically important Balkan route brings heroin produced in Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and then through other transit or destination countries (Albania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, former Yugoslav republics, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Italy). Heroin also enters Europe by the ‘silk route’ via central Asia and Russia, and then through Belarus, Poland and Ukraine to, among others, Scandinavian countries via Lithuania (INCB, 2010b). Within the European Union, the Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Belgium play an important role as secondary distribution hubs.


Worldwide reported seizures of opium increased markedly between 2007 and 2008, from 510 to 657 tonnes (Table 9). Iran accounted for more than 80 % of the total and Afghanistan for about 7 %. Global reported seizures of heroin increased to 75 tonnes in 2008, while global seizures of morphine decreased to 17 tonnes (UNODC, 2010).

In Europe, an estimated 56 600 seizures resulted in the interception of 23.6 tonnes of heroin in 2008. The United Kingdom continued to report the highest number of seizures, while Turkey again reported the greatest quantity seized, with 15.5 tonnes recovered in 2008 (1). Data for the years 2003–08 from 26 reporting countries indicate that the number of seizures has increased since 2003. The overall trend in the quantity of heroin intercepted in Turkey differs from that observed in the European Union ('Figure 9: Estimated quantities of heroin seized in the European Union, Croatia and Norway, and in Turkey'). While Turkey reported a three-fold increase in the quantity of heroin seized between 2003 and 2008, the amount seized in the European Union has shown a limited decline during this period, mainly due to decreases reported in Italy and the United Kingdom, the two countries seizing the largest quantities in the European Union (2).

Global seizures of acetic anhydride (used to manufacture heroin) increased from 57 300 litres in 2007 to 199 300 litres in 2008, with the largest quantities seized reported by Slovenia (86 100 litres) and Hungary (63 600 litres). The INCB encourages the EU Commission and EU Member States to prevent the diversion of acetic anhydride from the internal market (INCB, 2010a).

Purity and price

In 2008, the mean purity of brown heroin tested ranged between 15 % and 30 % for most reporting countries; lower mean values were reported in France (11 %), Austria (retail only, 11 %) and Turkey (retail only, 7 %), and higher ones in Bulgaria (31 %), Portugal (32 %), Romania (43 %) and Norway (31 %). Between 2003 and 2008, the purity of brown heroin increased in eight countries, while in four others it remained stable or decreased. The mean purity of white heroin was generally higher (30–50 %) in the few European countries reporting data (3).

The retail price of brown heroin continued to be higher in the Nordic countries than in the rest of Europe, with Sweden reporting a mean price of EUR 133 per gram and Denmark EUR 107. In eight other reporting countries, the retail price of brown heroin ranged between EUR 25 and EUR 80 per gram. Over the period 2003–08, the retail price of brown heroin increased in five of the nine European countries reporting time trends, and decreased in four. In the few countries reporting the retail price of white heroin, it ranged between EUR 24 and EUR 213 per gram in 2008.

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(1) See Tables SZR-7 and SZR-8 in the 2010 statistical bulletin. Note that where data for 2008 are absent, the data for 2007 are used to estimate European totals.

(2) This analysis is preliminary as data for the United Kingdom are not yet available for 2008.

(3) See Tables PPP-2 and PPP-6 in the 2010 statistical bulletin for purity and price data.

Bibliographic references

INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) (2010a), Precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, United Nations, New York (available online).

INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) (2010b), Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2009Board for 2009, United Nations, New York (available online).

UNODC (2009), World drug report 2009, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.

UNODC (2010), World drug report 2010, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 26 October 2010