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The dramatic rise of Afghan methamphetamine

By on

How satellite imagery is helping to track down the new dealers on the block

High up in the mountains of central Afghanistan, farmers are turning to a mountain crop called Ephedra to replace the traditional over the counter medicines as a source of Ephedrine – a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.

Traditionally, ephedrine was extracted from medicines such as cough mixture or decongestants, but this was expensive and complicated to do. Now, traders travel from afar to purchase and process the raw plant materials to supply meth factories as they produce tonnes of crystal meth ready to export around the world.

It is hard to estimate how much plant-based ephedrine is produced in the whole of Afghanistan but recently the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) have released their report on Afghan meth production. The report, authored by David Mansfield is based on desk research, in depth fieldwork supported by high-resolution satellite imagery and detailed geospatial analysis by the team at Alcis.

These Guildford-based remote-sensing experts used satellite imagery and details provided by ephedrine cooks to study 14,278 compounds in Bakwa district and identified 329 possible production sites. If these 329 sites were working 20 days a month, an estimated 98 tons of ephedrine, using up to 3,000 tons of dried ephedra, could be produced. This, in turn, could produce around 65.5 metric tons of crystal meth. If this ephedrine were to be used to produce meth locally, it could be worth an estimated $240 million US dollars per year, from this one district alone. Further imagery analysis suggests that meth production is taking place in other districts.

Alcis have condensed the report into a 4 minute video, which you can see here:

Victoria May-Chamberlain
Team Administrator
Vicky is a great multi-tasker who is working in the Centre of Excellence to oversee the operations and events, coordinate with our stakeholders and engage in planning as required.