How Iran Won the War on Drugs

Lessons for Fighting the Afghan Narcotics Trade

A drug addict smokes heroin in Kabul. Mohammad Ismail / Courtesy Reuters

“Selling poppies is easier than selling diamonds and gold in Afghanistan, and just as valuable,” an official in the Afghan Ministry of Public Health told me in 2011. “The [police] is corrupt, the farmer is poor, and the addict always buys.”

He was right. The failure of international forces in Afghanistan to curb the narcotics trade presents one of the gravest threats to the country’s long-term stability and security. Even though the U.S.-led coalition has spent more than $6 billion on stopping drug shipments, creating incentives for farmers to exchange poppies for other crops, and disrupting illicit financial networks over the past decade, Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin and other illegal opiates.

In NATO countries alone, Afghan narcotics cause more than 10,000 heroin-overdose deaths per year -- making them far deadlier than the munitions that have claimed the lives of approximately 3,200 coalition personnel since the start

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