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Published: 15 November 2011

Heroin drought in Europe?

The availability of heroin is reported to have dropped sharply in the United Kingdom and Ireland in late 2010 to early 2011. This is supported by figures showing a considerable drop in the purity of heroin seized in the United Kingdom between the third quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2010 (UNODC, 2011).

The extent of the shortage in other European countries is less clear, although reports suggest that Italy and Slovenia have experienced heroin shortages. Other EU Member States, including Germany, France and Scandinavian countries, report little or no reduction in heroin availability.

A number of reasons have been put forward to explain the apparent heroin drought. First, it has been suggested that reduced production of opium in Afghanistan, due to poppy blight in the spring of 2010, may be responsible. However, this is debatable, as police reports suggest that heroin made from Afghan opium may not appear on the European drug markets until about 18 months after harvest. A second argument is that heroin destined for western Europe has been diverted to the Russian market, but Russia also appears to be undergoing a heroin shortage. It has also been suggested that law enforcement efforts have disrupted trafficking, in particular through the dismantling of wholesale heroin networks between Turkey and the United Kingdom. Also, recent years (2007, 2008) have seen record seizures of the heroin precursor acetic anhydride in Europe, and these confiscations may have affected the drug market over a longer period. Finally, other developments in Afghanistan, such as heavy fighting in the south of the country, and law enforcement actions against heroin laboratories and opium stockpiles, may also be influencing heroin supply to Europe.

It is likely that a combination of some of these factors has played a role in disrupting the supply of heroin to Europe, causing severe shortages in some markets.

UNODC (2011), World drug report 2011, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.

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Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011