6 Transnational Crime and Global Security
the development of tolerance and physical dependence, and discontinued
use can result in a painful withdrawal process. The probability of develop-
ing addiction, and the rates of addiction, among heroin users are among
the highest of all known addictive substances (Gable, 2006). Given that
many heroin addicts use the drug intravenously, risks of contracting and
spreading a range of diseases create additional public health concerns.
Heroin is synthesized from opium, a naturally occurring, milky sub-
stance that is manually extracted from the seed pods of the Asian opium
poppy plant. Morphine, a highly effective pain medication that is used
routinely within the legitimate medical field, is first extracted from raw,
dried opium. The morphine base is then further processed into heroin
(Zerell, Ahrens, & Gerz, 2015), which is far more potent than morphine,
which in turn is far more potent than opium. Further, heroin is more com-
pact, which makes trafficking and distribution easier.
Historically, most of the world’s opium supply originated in the Golden
Triangle of Southeast Asia (Myanmar and the Lao People’s Democratic
Republic) or in southwestern Asia (predominantly Afghanistan). More
recently, the majority of the world’s opium poppy plants are grown and
harvested in Afghanistan (estimated to be producing nearly 80% of the
overall market supply in 2010). Heroin production has also occurred in
Colombia, Latin America, and Mexico, which tends to serve the North
American market (Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants,
2016; Office of National Drug Control Strategy, 2016a). While slightly dif-
ferent chemical and production processes are used in Afghanistan and
Colombia/Mexico, the end product, heroin (white, brown, or black tar),
remains a potent drug of abuse that is widely used.
Heroin trafficking routes, of course, vary considerably depending on
the source country and the destination market(s). Much of the Afghani-
stan heroin is transported and trafficked to either the Russian Federation
(via the northern route through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan,
or Turkmenistan) or Western Europe (via the Balkan route which tra-
verses Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, and/or Bulgaria). Myanmar her-
oin primarily serves Chinese, Indian, and southeastern Asian markets. In
recent years, most of the heroin in the United States comes from, or at
least comes through, Mexico, in part because Colombian heroin produc-
tion has dropped considerably (United Nations, 2010; Office of National
Drug Control Strategy, 2016b). Heroin use prevalence rates and estimated
numbers of users are routinely the highest in the United States, followed
by Europe and Africa, although measurement processes vary consider-
ably from one country to the next.
Marijuana (also referred to as cannabis herb) remains the most widely
used illicit drug in the world. In 2012, between 125 million and 227 million
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