Kazakhstan is a country known mainly to Americans as the home of Borat, the farcical character perpetrated on the world by comedian Sasha Baron Cohen. However, Kazakhstan also sits on the “New Silk Road” of heroin smuggling that connects Asia and Europe.
Afghanistan supplies and estimated 90% of Europe’s heroin (and 75% of the world’s heroin). Global political and economical factors have created a “perfect storm” of supply and demand for heroin between the manufacturers in the east and the consumers in the west (read about the Global Heroin Manufacturing Empire).
The New Silk Road of heroin smuggling is through the poor republics of the former Soviet Union. The poverty in this region makes it rife with willing participants and the under trained and poortly equipped police forces can’t compete with the multi billion dollar industry.
The city of Almaty in Kazakhstan is a particular hub. Last year about 30,000 kilos were trafficked into Europe through this city. Authorities in the area struggle to make a dent in this lucrative trade but it is not easy.
The creativity of how to smuggle the drugs is rising – incorporating a wide variety of traditional methods including submerging containers of the drug in tankers and taping it to the bodies of willing ‘mules.” Also, the youth of the participants is surprising and disturbing to the local authorities. In the past smugglers were typically between 30 and 50 but in recent years the age keeps dropping even to include 18 and 19 year olds.
Of course, Almaty suffers under the burden of the heroin epidemic. An estimated 3% of the population uses heroin – mostly intravenously. The night club scene is a fertile setting for drug trade to flourish. AIDS, hepatitis and other needle-borne diseases are spreading unchecked.
Corruption as a Way of Life
A recent Newsweek article about the growing heroin smuggling industry along the New Silk Road highlighted the main concern that with so much poverty, money can buy anything – including amnesty for drug smuggling operations. When the many areas subsist on less than $1 a day, the willingness to risk everything to participate in a smuggling operation becomes impossible to refuse.
Why Does this Affect Us?
Beyond the human tragedy of drug addiction and overdose in a faraway land, this phenomenon hits closer to home than you may think
Participating in the heroin empire is often an unfortunate decision driven by chemical dependency and economic factors by users in the west.. Even through the value of the heroin is driven up through long process of being transferred from carrier to carrier across the continents and Atlantic and into the United States (usually across the land border with Mexico), the drug is still incredibly affordable for addicts in the United States. Many teens and “twenty somethings” who experiment with prescription drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin become hooked on the opioid high and transfer their addiction to the much cheaper and easier to obtain heroin. A dose of heroin can cost less than a movie and the drug is literally delivered “pizza delivery style” by heroin delivery services in cities in the United States.
The money that is made from drug trafficking that filters back to Afghanistan does go into the coffers of terrorist organizations like the Taliban and other criminal syndicates that participate in cruel activities like human trafficking.
What’s the Solution?
The heroin manufacturing and proliferation industry is so profitable that there is supposedly an incredible stockpile of the drug in areas of the world like Afghanistan and Russia.
It is not likely that the UN or any other international force is going to be able to stem the influx of heroin into the United States.
It is time for societies in the west like ours to address this problem at home by educating our youths. For information on what to say to a family member who may be abusing drugs or symptoms of heroin use please call 866-323-5609 for a confidential discussion with an addictions specialist.