Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries (UNODC)

Afghan Opiate Trafficking Along the Northern Route

June 2018

The illicit trade in Afghan opiates represents a global challenge that affects every region of the world except Latin America. The trafficking of opiates from production centres in Afghanistan to consumer markets around the globe requires an infrastructure of routes and facilitation by domestic and international criminal groups.

Drug trafficking routes result from a number of factors, including, but not limited to, geographic proximity, logistics, profit and risk margins. Three major trafficking routes have been identified in relation to opiate trafficking from Afghanistan: the Balkan route, which supplies Western and Central Europe through the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey via South-Eastern Europe; the southern route, through Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Gulf region, Africa, South Asia and, to a lesser extent, South-East Asia, Oceania and North America; and the northern route, through Central Asia to the Russian Federation.

Of the three, the northern route is perhaps the least complex of the major routes used to traffic opiates out of Afghanistan. Bound by geography, the northern route is heavily dependent on overland trajectories, which themselves are based on road and rail infrastructure. Unlike the Balkan and southern routes, which supply many destination markets, and cross multiple different countries, the northern route primarily supplies the Russian Federation and, to a lesser extent, markets in Central Asia. This report presents insights into the trafficking of opiates along the northern route over the period 2011-201 and, is intended to provide policymakers with an evidence base on which to develop policies and interventions relevant to the countries along the northern route. 

The focus of this report is primarily on the numerous sub-routes that make up the northern route, the criminal networks that operate along them and the modus operandi they employ to traffic opiates. In light of the dramatic increases in poppy cultivation and opium production in Afghanistan in 2016 and 2017, the evolution of opiate production in that country is also considered. Where relevant, this report also considers the effect that geopolitical and economic changes in Afghanistan and the northern route countries have on the illicit trade in opiates along the northern route.


Download the report here