Heroin supply on to the streets of Britain from Afghanistan is set to increase after the fall of the country to the Taliban, a senior policing leader has warned.
Donna Jones, the lead for serious and organized crime for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said police chiefs were concerned the loss of UK and US forces’ checks on exports would pave the way for more heroin trafficking into the UK.
Afghanistan accounts for 82 per cent of global opium cultivation, according to the National Crime Agency, with most heroin that reaches the UK trafficked through the western Balkans.
“Having checks over airport borders and shipping containers has given us an element of control,” said Ms Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire.
“With an unstable government, with the Taliban in those key roles, do we believe that these organized crime issues could be overlooked or even possibly supported by the Taliban in Afghanistan? I’d say probably yes.”
The opium trade is a major source of income for a large proportion of the Afghan population as it is far more profitable than wheat or other crops.
For about a year before the Taliban were overthrown by the US-led coalition 20 years ago, they had declared opium production as un-Islamic and led a successful campaign eradicating almost all production in areas it controlled.
However, in the past 20 years, the drug trade has become a significant source of income for the Taliban insurgency against the US.
“It is highly unlikely the Taliban will prioritize a ban on opium production at a time when they are badly in need of funds. This is the cognitive dissonance that will be going on in the minds of their leadership: ideology versus necessity,” said a police source.
Ms Jones said the initial impact was expected to be limited. “I don’t think the increase is hitting the person on the street yet, but I think it will do over the next six to 12 months and I think it will do in quite large waves,” she said.
“As a commissioner who has responsibility for making sure that we are tackling drug-related harm, I am very concerned about the effect of heroin on the streets of Britain over the next year and beyond.”
The number of drug-related deaths are at their highest on record, at 4,561 in 2020 in England and Wales, with heroin and morphine accounting for more than a third.
The warning over heroin imports coincides with a national alert by Public Health England over a surge in overdoses that have accounted for at least 16 deaths in less than two weeks in southern England.
Three of deaths – linked to heroin adulterated with the synthetic opioid isotonitazene – had been in Hampshire, said Ms Jones. Isotonitazene is said to be 500 times stronger than morphine.
Jason Harwin, deputy chief constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drugs, said: “Heroin causes significant harm and misery in our communities and police continue to work hard to target those who import and sell it. We are monitoring and reviewing intelligence in relation to heroin being imported from overseas.”