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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2009 (or the last year available).


Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Opioid use and drug injection

Published: 15 November 2011

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 some northern European countries (e.g. Estonia, Finland, Norway) fentanyl, a synthetic opioid and its analogues, are in use. 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 (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland).

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, 2011). 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 6 900 tonnes in 2009 to 3 600 tonnes in 2010. The most recent estimate of global potential heroin production is 396 tonnes, (see Table 10) down from an estimated 667 tonnes in 2009 (UNODC, 2011).

Table 10: Production, seizures, price and purity of heroin
Production and seizures Heroin

Data are for 2009, except the global production estimate (2010).

UNODC (2011), World drug report 2011, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.
Reitox national focal points for European data.

Global production estimate (tonnes) 396
Global quantity seized (tonnes) 76
Quantity seized (tonnes)
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)

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

56 000
(59 000)
Price and purity in Europe Heroin base ('brown')
Mean retail price (EUR per gram)
(Interquartile range)


Mean purity (%)
(Interquartile range)



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 towards other transit or destination countries, mainly in western and southern Europe. Heroin is also trafficked via the 'silk route' through central Asia and towards Russia. To a limited extent, this heroin is then smuggled through Belarus, Poland and Ukraine to other destinations such as Scandinavian countries via Lithuania (INCB 2010, 2011a). 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 remained stable between 2008 and 2009, at 657 and 653 tonnes, respectively. Iran accounted for nearly 90 % of the total and Afghanistan for about 5 %. Global reported seizures of heroin remained stable in 2009 (76 tonnes), while global seizures of morphine decreased to 14 tonnes (UNODC, 2011).

In Europe, an estimated 59 000 seizures resulted in the interception of 24 tonnes of heroin in 2009, two-thirds of which (16.1 tonnes) was reported by Turkey. The United Kingdom (followed by Spain) continued to report the highest number of seizures (1). Data for the years 2004-09 from 28 reporting countries show an overall increase in the number of seizures. The overall trend in the quantity of heroin intercepted in Turkey differs from that observed in the European Union, which may be due in part to greater collaboration between Turkish and EU law enforcement agencies. While Turkey reported a doubling in the quantity of heroin seized between 2004 and 2009, 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.

Global seizures of acetic anhydride used in the manufacture of heroin decreased from a peak of about 200 000 litres in 2008 to 21 000 litres in 2009. Figures for the European Union show an even stronger downward trend: from a peak of almost 150 800 litres seized in 2008 to 866 litres in 2009. For 2010, however, Slovenia has reported seizing a record quantity of acetic anhydride - 110 tonnes. The INCB (2011a) placed the success of EU efforts to prevent diversion of the precursor in the context of several EU Member States and Turkey combining their investigations.

Purity and price

The mean purity of brown heroin tested in 2009 ranged between 16 % and 32 % for most reporting countries; lower mean values were reported in France (14 %), Austria (retail only, 13 %) and higher ones in Malta (36 %), Romania (36 %) and Turkey (37 %). Between 2004 and 2009, the purity of brown heroin increased in four countries, remained stable in four others and decreased in three. The mean purity of white heroin was generally higher (25-50 %) in the three European countries reporting data (2).

The retail price of brown heroin continued to be considerably higher in the Nordic countries than in the rest of Europe, with Sweden reporting a mean price of EUR 135 per gram and Denmark EUR 95 in 2009. Overall, it ranged between EUR 40 and EUR 62 per gram in half of the reporting countries. Over the period 2004-09, the retail price of brown heroin decreased in half of the 14 European countries reporting time trends.


(1) See Tables SZR-7 and SZR-8 in the 2011 statistical bulletin. Note that where data for 2009 are absent, data for 2008 are used to estimate European totals.

(2) See Tables PPP-2 and PPP-6 in the 2011 statistical bulletin for purity and price data.

Bibliographic references

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

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

INCB (2011), Precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, United Nations, New York.

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Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011