The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan could flood the streets of Britain and Europe with deadly super-potent heroin, experts fear.
The Islamist terrorist group relies heavily on the war-torn country’s multibillion pound opium trade.
Production increased last year in the country, which already accounts for two-thirds of the world’s opium supply.
Ian Hamilton, an addiction researcher at York University, said it was a “future” problem.
Afghanistan produced 37% more opium last year, according to a United Nations report. The country cultivated opium from 224,000 hectares of poppy fields – an area 50% larger than the whole of Greater London
Heroin is made from opium extracted from the pods of certain poppy plants, which is transformed into morphine and then into heroin. (Pictured: An Afghan working in a poppy field in Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, April 2016)
The Balkan route (red dotted line) is the main route for the introduction of Afghan opiates into Europe, where most of the heroin produced in the country ends up. It is generally smuggled through Iran, Turkey and the Balkans. During this time, most of the opiates taken in the United States arrived from Mexico and Colombia.
Heroin and morphine responsible for most drug-related deaths in 2020
Opiates, heroin and morphine caused nearly 30% of all drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 4,561 deaths in England and Wales recorded last year were linked to drug poisoning in 2020, marking the ninth consecutive year of increases in drug-related deaths .
And heroin and morphine have caused 1,337 deaths – more than any other drug. This represents an increase of 69% from 10 years ago.
Heroin caused more deaths than cocaine (777), antidepressants (517) and methadone (516).
Many of those who died from illegal drug use were born in the 1970s. The victims include members of the “Trainspotting Generation” who live in the poorest cities and became addicted to heroin in the 1990s. , when the prices were cheap.
Experts called the data “tragic and worrying” and called on ministers to urgently provide additional support to resolve “the public health emergency”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government “is committed to fighting drug abuse and saving lives”. Ministers are now proposing to make naloxone – a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose – more widely available.
Meanwhile, MDMA, also known as ecstasy, was responsible for ten times more deaths than in 2010, and among men, drug-related deaths were thirteen times higher than ten years ago.
Cocaine-related deaths have almost quintupled over the same period to 777, with rates among women dropping from just 19 to almost 160.
And deaths involving benzodiazepines – a class of potent sleeping pills that include Xanax and Valium – have increased by almost 60% in ten years.
Experts said today that the figures were sad but not surprising, especially for cocaine “given that [the drug] is so readily available and as easy to order as a Deliveroo ‘.
The ONS figures cover 2020, but due to registration delays most of the deaths occurred in the previous year, which means they don’t show how the lockdown may have encouraged illegal drug use. Experts said successive closures were only likely to trigger an increase in drug-related deaths.
It comes after Scotland recorded a record 1,339 drug-related deaths in 2020, the worst drug-related death rate in Europe.
He told MailOnline: “Opium production has increased dramatically over the past year – and this is no coincidence.
“There is less and less official control over production and distribution. This increase in the yield of opium will be found in Western markets.
“And what’s worrying about that is if the yield goes up you end up with stronger, more potent heroin because there’s less need to dilute it. ”
Heroin, usually sold as a brown powder, is produced from morphine, which is extracted from the pods of the opium poppy.
Ultra-strong heroin is more likely to overdose in drug addicts, according to charities.
New heroin users may think they are taking a safe dose as suggested, when it is actually much stronger.
And regular users will continue to take the same amount without knowing its potentially deadly strength.
Mr. Hamilton said “it’s a bit like drinking pints on a regular basis and then suddenly switching to spirits.”
Afghanistan accounts for nearly two-thirds of all opium produced in the world, according to the United Nations.
A UN report released in May claimed that last year Afghanistan saw a 37% increase in the amount of opium produced.
The country cultivated opium on 224,000 hectares of poppy fields, an area 50% larger than the whole of Greater London.
Europe is the main destination for heroin produced in Afghanistan. It is generally smuggled through Turkey and the Balkans.
During this time, most of the opiates taken in the United States came from Mexico and Colombia.
Crystal meth is also becoming a problem in the country, with the warning from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction it could become as big an industry in the country as heroin.
Experts have attributed the growing production and supply of crystal meth to drug traffickers who found ephedra, the plant used to make ephedrine, which is a key component of the drug, growing to the condition wilderness in the mountains of the country.
It comes after health chiefs yesterday issued a warning about heroin overdoses, following more than a dozen recent deaths.
There have been at least 46 poisonings in South London, South East, South East and East England in the past fortnight.
Public Health England said urgent investigations with police were still underway.
And he said there are early signs that the overdoses may have been caused by lots of heroin mixed with a potent and dangerous synthetic opioid.
Authorities did not say what the mixed drug might be, but experts suggested it could be fentanyl or spice.
Fentanyl, a strong opioid pain reliever designed to treat severe pain, is 50 times more potent than heroin and has been linked to thousands of deaths in the United States.
It comes as drug-related deaths in the UK hit 4,561 in England and Wales in 2020, the highest level since 1993.