By Gözde Damla Citler
“Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.”*
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a beloved and well-known fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers featuring a famous line: “Mirror, mirror on the wall.” This innocent fairy tale character, horribly and ironically, describes a fatal substance in the organized crime environment. It is the street name of cocaine which also turns the famous line above into a murder weapon: the mirror people use for cutting it on. This is how a fairy tale turns into a nightmare when narcotics appear as the antagonist.
It is not just about cocaine. There are other monsters, too. Far beyond the boundaries where the Grimm Brothers penned this story, the 65-year-old Afghan man inhales opium with his toothless mouth in a village in north-western Afghanistan. “I lost my property, my strength, my bravery,” says he, where the woman nearby does not even blink while blowing opium smoke into a baby’s mouth to be sure she would get a good night’s sleep. They instantly become addicts.
This is but a taste of the whole terror of drug addiction. It is not only a concern for Afghanistan but also for other parts of the world. Cultivating and harvesting these plants has long been the livelihood of many people around the world. However, the non-medicinal (recreational) use of the derivatives of these plants poses one of the biggest threats to the health of individuals as well as societies.
The most important question that comes to mind here is whether or not there is any other possibility of substituting this highly harmful and profitable business.
A deeper look into the definition and the differentiations of recreational drugs can help us in finding an answer. A recreational drug is any illegal substance that affects the central nervous system and differs from legal and medicinal drugs which are used under the supervision of professionals. They can be divided into three main categories due to their effects:
 Opioids which are psychoactive substances that alter the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous system and produce a feeling of euphoria;
 Hallucinogens which can cause subjective changes in perception, emotion and consciousness and induce different perceptive experiences rather than causing alterations in bodily functions;
 Stimulants which induce temporary improvements in either mental or physical function or both, also known as “uppers” since they cause enhanced alertness and mobility.
Even though they make different alterations to the physical and mental functions of a person, all of the recreational drugs have one thing in common: addiction. The more people get addicted to and abuse narcotics, the more they will demand their production. Since there is no way out of this problem, save rehabilitation, the supply and demand equilibrium gets seriously affected: the illegal production will rise, it will affect the prices; and the web of organized crime would get more and more tangled.
The Artery of Organized Crime
The organized crime networks use the addictive characteristics of the drugs, be it heroin or cocaine, for their own benefits. Drug trafficking is one of the major concerns worldwide. It is seen as a highly profitable and relatively low-risk business (compared to human or arms trafficking). To be more concrete, out of many containers that carry narcotics, only 2% of them were inspected in 2010.
To be able to understand why I call drug trafficking as the artery of organized crime, one can make a simple calculation: One gram of pure heroin costs $4 in production countries such as Afghanistan. The value of the same amount can reach up to $ 400 in destination countries: the further they are, the more expensive the substance costs.
Apart from being very expensive—which results in illegal dealers and buyers—and having fatal consequences for the users, drug production and trafficking affect security on all levels from individuals to the system. It has now become one of the major problems in South and Central Asian security. Since the organized crime groups have strong links with criminals within the countries and this business is ever so lucrative, no one wants to leave this web and therefore the level of corruption rises.
The harmful effects of drug trafficking are quite clear when we look at the consumption levels by region. According to the 2011 World Drug Report which was published last October by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), there are approximately 12 to 21 million opiate users in the world.  Among all the opiates, heroin is the most commonly consumed one by an estimated one-third of all opiate users worldwide. In 2009, out of 480 tonnes of pure heroin, 375 tonnes were consumed and the rest were seized. The East and Southeast Asia region, which is one of the main hubs of opium cultivation and heroin production, leads heroin consumption with some 81 tonnes. East Europe follows with 73 tonnes.
In Europe, heroin is the mostly consumed opiate. Scotland is the leading country in the consumption of the substance by some 1.5 tonnes and it is followed by Estonia, England and Wales. According to the report of the UNODC, despite the stabilizing heroin consumption levels the health and social problems which stem from the heroin usage do not diminish. “The highest opioid use prevalence rates in West and Central Europe were reported from the United Kingdom (± 350,000 users), Italy (± 216,000 users) and France (± 190,000 users).”
Afghanistan: The Main Supplier
Afghanistan continues to remain the number one supplier of the heroin consumed globally. Drug production and the financial flow from it make the war-ridden country even more dependent and unstable. The poorer the country gets, the more people will want to cultivate opium, which was exactly the case for 2010: the opium cultivation has skyrocketed and three provinces have lost their “poppy-free” status, therefore the prices have risen.
The opium poppy continues to be the highest yielding product for Afghan farmers and for the country in general. The total farm-gate value of the opium production constitutes 9% of the country’s GDP, while the total expenditure on health in Afghanistan was 7.4% of the total GDP.
Moreover, with a GDP per capita of $515, an Afghan farmer can make more money just by selling fresh or dry opium from $130-170 per gram. These numbers show how profitable the business is both for the farmers and the buyers. Plus, there is no product that can compensate for the opium poppy in Afghanistan or the fast liquidity the drug money provides.
As the data suggests, opium production is without a doubt one of Afghanistan’s main concerns, especially in the southern parts of the country where the poppy fields stretch as far as the eye can see and are located in the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. These are the most insecure and unstable regions because it is through the border where the heaviest trafficking occurs. This leads illegal groups to become more deeply involved in organized crime. With the money the drugs provide, corruption, money laundering and arms trafficking follow one another. Organized crime poses the biggest threat to the region in which security is already very loose. With the $7 billion net revenue opiate trafficking has made for organized crime groups in one year, it does not seem likely this criminal fairy tale will end in the foreseeable future.
* Spanish proverb.
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2011). World Drug Report 2011. United Nations: New York.
 A substance found in plants that is used in drugs or as a poison.
 UNODC, World Drug Report 2011.