Continuing increase in heroin purity

Heroin is the most common opioid on the European drug market, with an estimated retail value of EUR 6.8 billion (likely range EUR 6.0 billion to EUR 7.8 billion). Historically, imported heroin has been available in Europe in two forms, the more common of which is brown heroin (its chemical base form), originating mainly from Afghanistan. Far less common is white heroin (a salt form), which in the past came from South-East Asia, but now may also be produced in Afghanistan or neighbouring countries. Other opioids seized by law enforcement agencies in European countries in 2015 included opium and the medicines morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, tramadol and fentanyl (Table 1.1). Some medicinal opioids may be diverted from legitimate pharmaceutical supplies, while others such as the 27 kilograms of morphine powder seized in 2015, are illicitly manufactured.


Number of seizures


Quantities seized (tonnes)




Indexed trends




EU + 2 refers to EU Member States, Turkey and Norway. Price and purity of ‘brown heroin’: national mean values — minimum, maximum and interquartile range. Countries covered vary by indicator.

Afghanistan remains the world’s largest illicit producer of opium, and most heroin found in Europe is thought to be manufactured there or in neighbouring Iran or Pakistan.

Since the 1970s, illicit opioid production in Europe has been limited to homemade poppy products produced in some eastern countries. However, the discovery of two laboratories converting morphine to heroin in Spain and one in the Czech Republic in recent years suggests that a small amount of heroin is manufactured in Europe.

Heroin enters Europe along four main trafficking routes. The two most important are the ‘Balkan route’ and the ‘southern route’. The first of these runs through Turkey, into Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Romania or Greece) and on to central, southern and western Europe. An offshoot of the Balkan route involving Syria and Iraq has also emerged. The southern route, where shipments from Iran and Pakistan enter Europe by air or sea, either directly or transiting through African countries, has gained importance in recent years. Other routes include the ‘northern route’ and a route through the southern Caucasus and across the Black Sea.

Number of heroin seizures and quantity seized: trends and 2015 or most recent year

Number of seizures




Number of heroin seizures (thousands)


Number of seizures for the 10 countries with highest values.


Quantity of heroin seized (tonnes)


Following a decade of relative stability, markets in a number of European countries experienced reduced heroin availability in 2010/11. This is evident in the number of heroin seizures reported, which declined in the European Union from 2009 to 2014, before stabilising in 2015. Between 2002 and 2013, the quantity of heroin seized within the European Union halved, from 10 to 5 tonnes. After the seizure of 8.4 tonnes in 2014, a year when several countries reported large heroin seizures (100 kg and above), in 2015 the quantity of heroin seized in Europe (4.5 tonnes) returned to the levels registered in the early 2010s. After reaching around 13 tonnes in 2014, Turkish heroin seizures decreased to 8.3 tonnes in 2015 - a figure still greater than all other European countries combined - while the number of seizures rose during the same period. Among those countries reporting consistently, indexed trends suggest that heroin purity continued to increase in Europe in 2015.

In addition to heroin, other opioid products are seized in European countries, but these represent a small fraction of the total seizures. The other opioids most commonly seized are the medicinal opioids buprenorphine, tramadol and methadone.

Seizures of opioids other than heroin in 2015

Opioid Number Quantity Number of countries
Kilograms Litres Tablets
Methadone 1 566 31 8 60 472 17
Buprenorphine 3 377 4   68 419 17
Tramadol 2 467     690 080 12
Fentanyls (fentanyl, ocfentanil, carfentanil) 287 3   41 10
Morphine 775 27   8 837 15
Opium 293 734     14
Codeine 293 3   9 855 8
Oxycodone 16 0.0003   962 5