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The Post-9/11 Heroin Boom

Prior to the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the Taliban government had dramatically cut the production of opium -- the plant whose derivatives are the raw materials for heroin. The U.S.-led invasion, predicated on the idea that Osama bin Ladin had orchestrated the 9/11/01 attack, had the effect of restoring opium production to pre-2001 levels.

Opium from Afghanistan is the source of most of the world's illicit heroin.

2002 opium poppy cultivation
Opium poppy cultivation exploded in the hear following the atack, as this graphic by the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime shows.

Most of the world's opium is grown in central Asia. The "Golden Triangle", where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet, is famous for its production of opium, but in 1992 the production of Afghanistan exceeded it, in the wake of the U.S. attack.

e x c e r p t
title: The Spoils of War: Afghanistan's Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade
authors: Michel Chossudovsky

Since the US led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Golden Crescent opium trade has soared. According to the US media, this lucrative contraband is protected by Osama, the Taliban, not to mention, of course, the regional warlords, in defiance of the "international community".

Heroin's Role in the Illegal and Legal Economies

The heroin trade remains enormously lucrative because of its illegality. Vast profits generated in the illicit drug economy are laundered through legal enterprises, such as many of the world's largest banks.

e x c e r p t
title: Pushing Drugs in a Free Market Economy
authors: David Werner
The financial magazine, Barrons, reporting on these events, spells out the close links between the drug trade and big business. It states, "The 'take' from the drug traffic is approximately $500 billion annually, and these funds are entirely integrated within the US banking system, processed through Morgan Stanley, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, First National. The $500 billion expresses itself in controlling shares in major blue chip US corporations such as Ford Motor Company, AT&T, General Electric. You cannot distinguish the operations of the mob or the drug traffic from the normal workings of finance capital in the United States."

What Is Heroin?

Heroin (diacetyl-morphine) is a semi-synthetic drug of the opioid analgesic class. It is a close cousin of morphine, which is found in the opium poppy (Papaver Somniferum), along with other alkaloids such as codeine. A heroin molecule is a morphine molecule with two acetyl groups added, which allow it to more easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Thus heroin is much more potent than morphine, and can be self-administered more quickly through smoking or injection. These properties incline its users to more readily succumb to addiction than users of other opiates.

Sold in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in patent medicines, it was eventually designated a Class 1 substance, not recognized to have any medical value. As a black market drug with strong powers to numb pain and produce apathy, heroin has been the center of a violent economy plaguing inner cities in the United States and elsewhere for decades.

Heroin Timeline

  • 1827: An English chemist first synthesizes heroin
  • 1906: The AMA approves heroin for use as a substitute for morphine
  • 1914: The Harrison Tax Act requires a prescription to purchase heroin or cocaine.
  • 1924: The Heroin Act makes the manufacture of heroin illegal.
  • 1942: The Opium Poppy Control Act requires a license to grow opium.
  • 1956: The Narcotics Control Act increases penalties for narcotics violations.
  • 1970: The Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act replaces and updates previous laws, emphasizing punitive approaches.
  • 1973: The Heroin Trafficking Act increasing penalties for heroin distribution.


page last modified: 2010-12-18
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The amount of land in production for opium production fell by 90 percent between 2000 and 2001.
The reduction of opium production in tonnage was even more dramatic the reduction in land under cultivation. Production was quickly restored following the post-9/11/01 US invasion.
Field of opium poppys in bloom
Morphine structure source
Herion structure source