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  • Heroin

    Heroin is a painkiller. The brown powder starts life as the milky sap of the opium poppy Papaverum Somniferum. The sap is collected and dried to form a gum. The gum is washed and becomes opium. Opium contains two painkilling alkaloids, codeine and morphine. Morphine that has been extracted from opium can be further refined to create diamorphine, or heroin. Weight for weight, heroin is about forty times more powerful than raw opium. It is one of the most powerful painkillers known, and will cause tolerance and a withdrawal syndrome relatively quickly.

    Heroin is an analgesic drug with depressant qualities. As the drug takes effect, breathing and heart rate decrease. Most people feel ‘a warm glow’ when the drug first starts to take effect, and any anxiety or concerns become insignificant. This experience is followed by a period when the user is conscious but looks like they’re falling asleep. Once this time has passed, the user is able to interact normally with other people, although to them their experience will have taken on a dream-like quality.

    The first time someone uses it they’ll usually notice how they just feel a bit sleepy, and warm, and a little itchy. They’ll usually vomit a fair bit, too.

    For some people, once is enough and they’ll never use it again.

    Other people go back to it again…and again…and then again…and then after a while they find that they keep going back to it, having another little toot, noticing how comfortable it makes them feel…wrapped up in cotton wool…all their worries and anxieties going away for, well, time…and by then, already, the habit is becoming pretty well established.

    Ashes to ashes, funk to funky…

    Nobody sets out to get a heroin habit. Everybody believes they’re in control, right up to the moment they realise that they’ve been kidding themselves. Recreational heroin use is possible, but it’s ever so easy to sway over the line between occasional and habitual without really noticing. You’re tickling the tail of the dragon…every so often just splitting a bag with someone else, getting stoned with your mates, and then your occasional use easily become a £10 bag every week. It’s only a tenner, right? And then, after a while, you get to wondering why should you be straight on Sunday when you can be stoned again? And why shouldn’t the weekend start on Friday night, after all? It’s not like you’ve got a habit or anything. And it sets you up nicely for the weekend…

    It’s all too easy to slip into a mid-week toot. After all, you deserve it. And it won’t hurt, just this once.

    The important thing to remember about tickling dragon’s tails is that you can only do it for so long before they turn round and bite you. Hard. And they don’t like to let go, once they’ve got you. And it hurts. It hurts like hell.

    Regular heroin use will cause a physical dependence. Period. No ifs, no buts. It’s nothing to do with ‘will power’ or being ‘hardcore’ or any other crazy thing. You stick your hand in the fire, it burns. You take heroin regularly, you get dependent. Once the last hit wears off, you get ill until you have some more of the drug. You get sick. You get crazy. You hurt. Some people dabble with heroin for years before getting a habit, others pick one up in a few months. Slowly, subtly, your pattern of use changes until, one day, you wake up…and you aren’t in control any more.

    We know Major Tom’s a junkie…

    And then you’ve got one of the most obvious motivations for carrying on using. Avoiding withdrawal. If you can’t get yourself sorted out, you’re going to get ill. You start to feel the beginnings of withdrawal. Runny nose, aching muscles. Diarrhea. Forget about sleeping, the pain of withdrawal will be with you twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for anything from three days to a couple of weeks. For some people it can be months before they feel right, and get back to ‘normal’ patterns of sleeping and eating.

    Of course, if you want to avoid the withdrawal, you just need a little more brown…

    And of course by then, you’re mostly only hanging out with people who also use it. Every other person you know is doing it. They’re phoning you, knocking on the door, dropping in, serving up…helping you out…easing the pain…sorting you out…making it all better agin…back on the merry-go-round…

    But that’s not you. You won’t get a habit. It’s not like you inject or anything.

    I’m never going to inject, so I’ll never get a habit, right?

    It doesn’t matter whether you inject heroin or smoke it. If you use it regularly you will start to need more to feel the effects. Every time you use it you’ll be reinforcing the belief that doing heroin feels good. You’ll be learning how to enjoy the effects of the drug. You’ll develop a tolerance, need more, and pretty soon you’ll need to take it just to get straight.

    Just this once…

    Really, strange as it seems, many people who get a habit for the first time don’t even realise what they’ve done. It’s not like smack’s a problem. It’s just that they feel like they’ve got the ‘flu if they don’t have it. And they don’t want to travel too far from a toilet. The moment that realisation strikes you could almost draw a gigantic light bulb going on above their head with a “pop!”…swiftly followed by gentle waves of “oh shit”iness as right behind the realisation, waves of nausea herald the onset of the withdrawal starting to take hold, and the urgent need to take more smack becoming an overwhelming priority.

    oh shit, indeed.

    Fuck it. It’s just a needle, right?

    Some people just leave it there. They see a future littered with debt, damage, despair, and the detritus of broken homes, hearts and hope. A constant lurching cycle from stoned to stark withdrawal, from buzzed to busted, and back again. They see the invariable destiny of that choice, and choose a different one. And some people don’t have that vision. They don’t see beyond the end of the next hit. Or they see where it’s going, and get stoned to avoid how that feels inside. Over the last twenty years, heroin use has increasingly been something that people start off by smoking, chasing or having the occasional boot. It’s rare to find people still smoking heroin four or five years down the road. It usually comes down to a simple matter of economics. I’ve got a limited amount of money, and the important thing in my life is brown. I’m sitting with two half-gram bags in front of me…two days before I’m getting more cash… and weighing up the options…if I can afford to smoke enough brown to take the edge off the withdrawal, I’ve got enough to get stoned if I inject it. Fuck it. It’s just a needle, right? Nurses do this to people every day. It’s probably cleaner than smoking it, huh? Injecting can cause complications like abscesses, septicemia and the transmission of blood-borne viruses like HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

    Some of these are just very unpleasant. Others can kill. Injecting anything is a really effective way to introduce organisms into your body. If a recent injecting site is sore, red or inflamed you should definitely get it checked by a medically qualified person. Especially so if you have a temperature, or any other signs of infection. Sure, it’s personal. And it might save your arm, your leg or even your life…

    And so I face, the final curtain…

    When people talk about ‘overdose’ they’re often talking about drugs with depressant effects, like heroin. People overdose when they take more than their body can tolerate. Overdosing with a depressant drug can cause respiratory failure, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. It’s much easier to overdose on heroin if you inject it instead of smoking it. Maybe because sometimes the heroin is more pure than usual, or you’ve not used for a few days and your tolerance has dropped, or you’re also using drugs like alcohol, methadone, temazepam or other tranquillisers, or someone else makes up the hit…

    If you’re with other people who will call an ambulance for you then another drug can be given to you at the hospital to bring you back out. If you’re on your own, you’re on your own.

    …but then again…

    Even when you’re not injecting, regular heroin use can mean lifestyle choices that will quickly affect your general health. It’s not unusual for someone with an established heroin habit to find themselves using £25-£80 worth of the drug each day. If you’re spending all your money on brown, chances are you’re running up debts, not eating and not paying the rent. When you run out of your own money you’ll find yourself making choices that seemed unimaginable last year, or the year before.

    Doctorin’ the house?

    This information refers to the UK drug treatment system. Seeking help from a GP, community drug team or drug dependence unit could relieve some of the symptoms. Medication can be given to help to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, and other support may be available. Longer term users may be offered a substitute opioid prescription, usually methadone. Some people swear by methadone, others swear at it. It’s usually prescribed as a liquid to drink, although it can also be prescribed as an injectable ampoule (or a tablet, which you shouldn’t even consider injecting). It’s clean, it can stop you withdrawing for up to 36 hours and it costs a lot less than smack. Just like heroin and other opiates (from the poppy) or opioids (synthetic), if you take methadone regularly you’ll become dependent.

    A word or two for female heroin users

    Women who use heroin regularly can experience irregular menstrual cycles, as heroin use can suppress ovulation. It’s still possible to become pregnant, and if your cycle is irregular you might not notice for some time. If you do have sex with men, it’s important to use contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Using condoms for penetrative sex will protect you and your sexual partner against the transmission of Hepatitis B, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

    Let’s be ‘avin you…

    In the UK heroin use is illegal. Heroin, or diamorphine hydrochloride, is controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class A, Schedule 2 drug.

    Other Class A drugs include LSD and cocaine.

    i was in christiania recently and their hassh is almost all afghani, and they’ve given them all names like Ozzy’s revenge, and some even have stickers on them saying ‘watch your tv to find out what your money is buying us!’

    and i was also in the dam last week, and sure enough, afghani is almost 1/2 price everywhere you go. one coffeeshop even had maza-i-sharif at NLG 8- per gramme! thought all my birthdays had come at once! V. nice it was too.

    smack’s a different matter though and if this war reduces the amount coming into the UK then i suppose it’s a benefit. it’s just a shame that it’s the honest weed+poppy-growers who will undoubtedly suffer (cos they’re the ones who’ll get bombed). if our society didn’t suck so much and didn’t fail those who succomb to the pleasures of addictive drugsin the first place, then maybe there wouldn’t be the demand. cut out the demand, eliminate the problem, see?

    Agreed, although most states still regard repression as the ultimate cutting of demands…

    Heroin on prescription

    The traditional approach to heroin addiction in The Netherlands has been to prescribe methadone. But the success rate hasn’t been good. Often addicts relapse immediately after treatment. Now, thanks to people such as Wim van den Brink, Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Amsterdam Medical Centre, the medical profession in Holland views heroin addiction as a chronic disease.

    “As with all chronic diseases,” says the professor, “there is no single cure for all people, so we started to look for alternative treatments.” In his role as Scientific Director of the Prescribed Heroin Project, Prof Van den Brink may finally be able to offer some hope to those heroin addicts who have, until now, remained untreatable.

    Controlled Conditions:

    About three quarters of the 25,000 heroin addicts in The Netherlands are in some kind of treatment programme. Prof Van den Brink is keen to point out that this is a very high number compared to many other countries. “For example,” he says, “if you look at the US, about 10-15% of the heroin addicted population is in treatment.” There is however, a group that doesn’t respond well to methadone. “This made us feel, in a very practical sense, that more has to be done for these people.” Prof Van den Brink and his colleagues were looking at different approaches to help this group of people who, in his words, “are in quite miserable conditions”. “We started to think – lets see what happens when we prescribe the drugs they’re addicted to, when we prescribe heroin under fully controlled medical conditions.

    Quality of Life:

    “A typical participant is someone who has an addiction of 10 to 20 years, average age of 35-40, bad mental or physical health and a heavy criminal career,” adds the professor. “Basically we have 2 trials. In both there are about 250-300 patients. One group is getting just methadone and the other group is getting heroin plus some methadone. Now we want to see if people the people who use a combination of heroin plus methadone for 12 months do better than the group that only got methadone”.

    Prof Van den Brink sees these trials, not necessarily as a ‘cure’ for heroin addiction, but more a way of improving the quality of life of the addicts, maintaining their health and trying to keep them out of criminal activity. “Our intermediate goal with these people is that we stabilise them, improve their life conditions, maybe also improving their participation in society. And it might happen that some of these people also start to think by themselves, that a life of abstinence might finally be possible.”

    Junky Paradise?

    The results of the trial are due out early in February 2002 but so far Prof Van den Brink sees the trial as successful. “We have retention rates approaching 80% which is very high in this kind of population, so in these terms we’re actually quite optimistic.” But what does he say in answer to his critics, that the trials create deadlock and people get stuck in endless addiction?

    “People have to realise heroin on prescription isn’t a kind of drug heaven for people with freely available drugs. People in the trial have to come to the clinic three times a day, seven days a week. It’s definitely not a drug paradise. I think we’re very interested in the outcome, but still we don’t think that heroin is a replacement for normal treatments like methadone. It’s a last option.”

    By – Jul 2001


    Hard drug use in the Netherlands

    In The Netherlands junkies don’t die; they die out, it is sometimes said. Of course that is far from the truth, but indeed the number of drug related deaths in The Netherlands is the lowest in Europe. Treated as patients rather than criminals hard-drug addicts enjoy a better health than their counterparts in other countries and suffer less from social isolation than they do elsewhere.

    Also, the population of hard-drug addicts does not grow, as particularly heroin does not appeal to the young. To them, heroin is a drug for losers. The group of heroin users has an average age of 41.

    Care and treatment:

    Apart from heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are the most commonly used hard drugs. Use of cocaine is rising and an increasing number of addicts smoke it as ‘crack’, in combination with other drugs. Heroin though is the most problematic of hard drugsbecause it quickly leads to physical dependence and at a later stage to deteriorating health. An elaborate network of addiction care and treatment organizations is in place in The Netherlands, ranging from clinical detox-facilities and social rehabilitation programmes to experimental heroin distribution projects. Because the services on offer are low-threshold, they are able to reach the majority of addicts. Two projects have been long running and need special mention here: the methadone supply and the syringe exchange.


    Some 11,000 people, about half of the opiate addicts in The Netherlands, are incorporated in the methadone supply programme. The ultimate goal is abstention from heroin, but most users are just on a maintenance program, substituting heroin with methadone. Methadone, an opiate administered in the form of a liquid or a tablet, alleviates pain and suppresses withdrawal symptoms. It does not have the drawbacks and health problems associated with intravenous drug use and it reduces the need for the addicts to commitcrimes to find the money to pay for heroin. This so-called substitution treatment is by no means unique, but in The Netherlands it was introduced earlier and on a larger scale.

    Syringe exchange:

    Heroine addicts that inject rather than smoke (‘chasing the dragon’) can exchange used needles for clean and sterile ones. That way, needles need not be shared and the risk of infection with HIV and hepatitis B and C is reduced. The availability of syringes has not led to an increase in drug use, but it did contribute to the low percentage of intravenous drug users among AIDS patients in The Netherlands. In Europe as a whole this percentage is 40, in The Netherlands it is only 11.

    Clean needle programmes have now been copied throughout the EU.

    The highs and lows of heroin

    I struck a deal with Mr A. He’d share his experiences of heroin with me, if I agreed to keep his identity secret. “Heroin is a subject that makes people paranoid”. But then Mr A has a lot to lose. He doesn’t fit into the typical `junkie´ stereotype, he’s not an addict. He has a good job to hold down and friends and family around him. I agreed to his anonymity.

    “Heroin always intrigued me as a kid – the sort of thing that you saw bad people do on TV. It was always taboo.” But growing up Mr A had no contact with heroin other than the usual drugs awareness education provided to teenagers at school. “I remember going to drug awareness talks and forming this picture in my mind of dirty, homeless people who were going to die!”

    Real Life:

    But things changed when he found out that an older pupil at his school was a heroin addict. “It became a reality in my life. I realised that it was the sort of thing that anyone could get involved in.” Through his contact with this pupil, Mr A’s perceptions about what it meant to be a heroin user changed. “I started to feel a bit more compassionate towards things – that experience gave me a real focus and through the contact that we had with this guy I got a second hand education about how it affected peoples lives.”

    As he grew up, Mr A got more involved with drugs – “hash, then LSD and speed, some charlie (cocaine), even some opium in Thailand – always in control though, take it or leave it. Heroin and E (ecstasy) were taboo – two things I swore to myself I would never get involved with.” But Mr A succumbed to temptation. His first experience of heroin was when he bought some cannabis laced with it. “It gave me a smart buzz.”

    One Of The Crowd:

    But it didn’t end there. He got in with a new crowd. “Some of them were users, just normal people like you or me. Some of them only smoked it – chasing the dragon – a couple of the girls used to inject but they all still held their own at college.”

    “After a few months, I went to a house party – a girl I really liked was in one of the bedrooms with a couple of these guys chasing the dragon. Temptation got the better of me – I took a couple of hits.

    Always Wanting More:

    “I started sweating, got really nervous – my head was screaming ‘no!’ but I’d taken a couple of E’s and really wanted to get together with this girl, so I went for it. It was the most amazing feeling in the world – just a complete rush which started from the groin and just washed over me. I sat on the bed and couldn’t move. I just smiled and fell asleep – the girl was nowhere in sight. It was the best feeling in the world, better than charlie ever was. I could see how people get hooked as it left me wanting more.”

    That realisation was enough to scare Mr A. “I’d always been in control, I could really see how people get hooked and get into a downward spiral. I’ve never touched it since but whenever some laced cannabis comes up, I buy a bundle of it!”

    OCTOBER 2003


    Russia’s Siberian Federal District (Siberia) and the Far Eastern Federal District (the Russian Far East, or RFE) have experienced a surge in heroin trafficking and abuse over the past several years. The reasons for the increase are complex, but the combination of increased Afghan heroin production, increased trafficking via the Silk Road in Central Asia, weak border controls, and a diminished Russian economy has fueled traffic into areas of Russia that had never experienced heroin on such a large scale. According to Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations (U.N.) Office of Drugs and Crime, only 1 percent of Russian drug abusers used heroin in 1996; today, nearly 30 percent of drug users abuse heroin. Only Laos, Tajikistan, and Iran have higher opiate-abuse rates.

    The economic and social impact of heroin abuse and trafficking in Russia are substantial. Russian officials estimate that half of the heroin transiting Russia is intended for European markets, while the remainder is targeted for domestic use in Russia. Although the impact of this heroin trafficking in Siberia and the RFE on the United States is less dramatic, the potential for harm is great because Russia’s Pacific seaports are controlled by powerful organized crime groups. As Central Asian traffickers establish themselves more in eastern Russia, the opportunity exists to collude with Russian crime bosses to export heroin to the more lucrative markets of the Pacific Rim 1 and the United States.


    Siberia and the RFE, districts that have been traditionally ignored by Russia’s Moscow-based Central Government, are now receiving attention from Russian officials, who have noted an unprecedented spike in heroin traffic and abuse in the two regions. As little as 3 years ago, the most significant drugs of concern in Siberia and the RFE were opium, hashish, poppy straw, and ephedrine. Today, while abuse and trafficking of these drugs are still significant, they are overshadowed by bulk seizures of Afghan heroin and epidemic rates of heroin addiction. Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled drugs a national security concern, stating that the drug trade in Russia funds terrorist organizations, spurs illegal migration, facilitates arms trafficking, and causes a collapse in overall living standards.

    The problems in Siberia and the RFE are not as isolated as they may seem. It is important that not only the Russian Government, but also neighboring countries and the world community as a whole should be concerned about their problems. Drug addiction is closely linked to the rise in crime and disease, which, in turn, damages economies and social stability, and impairs government legitimacy. A crisis grows as an increase in the heroin flow fosters a surge in addiction, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and unemployment in an area where democratic and free market institutions are still developing. Regional instability caused by a collapsed economy, as well as rampant crime and corruption, could directly affect China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, as these countries open trade with Siberia and the RFE.

    Siberia and the RFE are already causing strategic security concerns for the Russian Government. During a November 2002 meeting of the Russian Security Council, President Putin labeled the RFE the most crisis-ridden district of Russia, where drugs and drug-related crime have compounded the problems already caused by poverty and corruption. The rise of drug traffic and domestic demand in Siberia and the RFE can be attributed to:

    Bulk amounts of inexpensive Afghan heroin;

    Increased security on the Afghanistan–Iran border and the Balkan Route;

    A depressed economy and shifting demography;

    A culture of organized crime;

    Rising crime and corruption; and

    Weak border control.


    Afghanistan has historically been a source country for opiates. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in 1989, the ensuing civil war decimated the Afghan economy. By the time the Taliban took control in 1995, opium was the country’s most profitable cash crop, with Afghanistan producing nearly 35 percent of the world’s opium. Within 5 years, spurred on by Taliban complicity, producers cultivated nearly 72 percent of the world’s opium (3,656 metric tons). As the heroin supply grew, its market value plummeted. Despite the Taliban’s self-serving ban on opium production in 2000, enormous stockpiles of cheap opium and heroin remained from previous seasons’ harvests. It was this heroin that flooded the Russian market after 2000 and 2001.

    The price of heroin in Russia dropped dramatically. Whereas, in 1993, a gram of heroin averaged US$200, the price fell to US$170 by 1995, and US$60 by 1999. In early 2001, it was down to between US$25 and US$30. Although it is now possible to find low-quality heroin for US$10 per gram in Russia, prices generally hover around US$40, and are even lower in Siberia. Open-source reporting states that heroin in Omsk is between 700 and 1,000 rubles (between US$23 and US$33 per gram). This cheap heroin fuels addiction in even the most remote areas of the country, such as in Norilsk, an isolated mining city in northern Siberia with a population of only 165,000. In January 2003, a seizure of 25 kilograms of heroin could have provided 5 million dosages.


    As the Taliban consolidated their control in Afghanistan, the Iranian Government took steps to fortify its eastern border. Iran built new border checkpoints and spent nearly US$1 billion to improve security against traffickers smuggling opiates westward. In response, some traffickers sought other routes to Turkey and Western Europe. The weak southern borders in Central Asia and Russia were an attractive alternative.

    Drug trafficking organizations, based in Turkey, have faced increased law enforcement activities on the infamous Balkan Route since 2001. A new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) project, called Operation Containment, coordinates law enforcement efforts of the United States and its regional partners, through the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), 2 to stem the flow of Afghan heroin to the markets of Europe and Asia. Although the Balkan Route is perceived as the greater heroin threat for Europe, Afghan and Central Asian traffickers find it easier to smuggle heroin via the Silk Road and Northern Route into Russia for further transit to Western Europe.


    Eastern Russia has seemingly boundless quantities of petroleum reserves, precious metals, minerals, timber, fish, and other raw materials. This natural wealth has led analysts to believe that after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, eastern Russia would develop faster economically than western Russia. This has not been the case because the area’s vastness, low population, and lack of viable infrastructure have hindered development.

    Although Siberia and the RFE cover 66 percent of Russian territory (nearly 14 million square kilometers), the districts have an average population density of only 1.9 people per square kilometer (a population of nearly 26.6 million). 3 In addition, the continuing economic depression has caused the population to decrease further, a result of a low birth rate, a “brain drain,” and massive migration to western Russia. According to statements by the Russian Government, the RFE lost almost 20 percent of its population between 1991 and 2001 (about 1.5 million people).

    The high cost of living and unemployment in Siberia and the RFE add to the economic misery. Vast distances between cities and extreme weather conditions result in high transportation costs for the delivery of consumer goods and services. The region’s high oil and gas tariffs make energy costs twice as expensive as the rest of Russia. Secure employment in eastern Russia’s heavily defense-oriented, economy vanished for much of the population after the peace initiatives and 1990’s subsidies cuts significantly drove down military-industrial production. Economic analysts state that the unemployment rate in the most hard-pressed areas of Russia (including northern Siberia and the RFE) can fluctuate between 15 and 40 percent, mostly due to the fact that severe weather conditions make many jobs seasonal. Even during high season, these rates are much higher than Russia’s official unemployment rate of 8.9 percent (unofficially, Russia’s average unemployment rate has been estimated as high as 25 percent).

    Siberia and the RFE are prime examples of how troubled economic conditions are linked to a surge in alcohol and drug abuse. The Russian Ministry of Health reports that, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the number of drug addicts in Russia increased 12 fold, to 3 million by early 2003. 4 Russian officials estimate that now almost half the heroin entering the country is for domestic consumption. In the RFE, addiction rates have been particularly devastating. Russian experts informed the DEA Moscow Country Office that some isolated cities are facing 50-percent-alcohol- and 30-percent-drug-addiction rates. The availability of cheap heroin in eastern Russia drives demand as more people become addicted. The negative effects that such high levels of abuse will play on the already depressed economy, in terms of mortality, lost work, illness, and crime, are bound to be substantial.

    An AIDS crisis, the result of intravenous drug use and a lack of preventative education, is further decimating the region. The Russian Federal AIDS Center reports that, as of May 2003, there were nearly 240,000 registered Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)-infected people in the country. Unofficially, the center estimates that the number could be as high as 1.5 million. In areas of the RFE, infection rates closely mirror those in sub-Saharan Africa. Irkutsk (central Siberia) has Russia’s highest number of registered AIDS patients (7,800 patients, or 1 out of 70 citizens), followed by Kaliningrad, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. In September 2001, a Maritime District AIDS center stated that there were 2,600 HIV infections. By May 2002, that figure rose to 3,500, and by November 2002 there were 4,075 cases. There are fears of a major epidemic in Krasnoyarsk, where estimates state that there could be 45,000 victims by 2005. Today, the Russian AIDS Center states that 1 percent of the populations of the isolated cities of Togliatti, Orenburg, and Norilsk are infected with HIV.


    Another factor affecting drug traffic is Russian organized crime (ROC). Although criminal networks were firmly entrenched in the RFE during the Soviet period, the corrupt post-Soviet society has been conducive for ROC to step up their activity. ROC now controls all aspects of the maritime, tourism, automotive, mining, and fishing industries in the RFE. Media sources report that over 149 organized criminal groups operate there, 40 of which have international connections. In the Maritime Region, also called Primoriye, whose capital is Vladivostok, these groups use bribery, extortion, and violence to influence politics and gain favors. Local politicians and businessmen have been both the perpetrators and victims of these crimes. In May 2002, General Vitaly Gamov, Deputy Director of the Pacific Department, Russian Federal Border Service, and his wife were killed in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, when three Molotov cocktails were thrown into their apartment. Gamov had been trying to combat organized criminal involvement in fish poaching. In November 2002, businessman Viktor Aksinin also was murdered in Nakhodka in connection with his crackdown on poaching.

    The Russian Drug Control Department (DCD) suspects that ROC groups in South America use ports in eastern Russia to import multiton shipments of cocaine, synthetic drugs, and precursor chemicals into the RFE. ROC already takes dvantage of their control of the port in St. Petersburg to import cocaine. In 1997, the Medvedkovskaya OC group was linked to a 204-kilogram cocaine seizure in Bratsk (south-central Siberia). The cocaine was actually imported into St. Petersburg concealed in a shipment of canned pineapples. This group attempted to use Siberia as a transit point for the cocaine to Europe, reasoning that Russian Customs officials would not suspect a shipment originating from South America because there is no cocaine market in Siberia.

    ROC has full control of Russia’s eastern ports and is well positioned to operate international drug shipments. DEA Moscow Country Office sources report that Latin American trafficking groups have explored the idea of sending cocaine-laden vessels to points off the shore of Vladivostok to rendezvous with fishing boats. These fishing boats would then transport the cocaine to markets in Asia and Europe.

    While ROC is linked to cocaine and synthetic drugs trafficking, it is rare for them to be involved with heroin because Central Asian-based traffickers generally control the supply, and have established connections to the Russian markets. However, without the approval of the more powerful ROC groups (paid for by the traffickers as “protection”), Central Asian traffickers would unlikely be able to distribute drugs in Russia. ROC benefits financially from heroin distribution, but does not bear the burden and risks of importing and dealing the drug in the country.

    Taking these facts into consideration, there is little question ROC in the RFE has the ability to smuggle heroin shipments to lucrative Pacific Rim and U.S. markets. Criminals have already demonstrated their ability to circumvent customs clearance to get cargo into, and out of, Russia. The Ports of Nakhodka and Vladivostok are Russia’s largest on the Pacific, moving 13 million and 7 million tons of freight per year, respectively. According to U.S. Government reporting, because new regulations were implemented to increase legitimate trade, customs officials do not inspect much of the cargo leaving the port. Police initiatives enacted to “sweep” crime from the ports did little more than eliminate petty crime, while port control and management were left untouched. Those in control of Nakhodka and Vladivostok wield their power to halt shipments from companies as punishment for not paying protection taxes to mob bosses. Local officials ensure that few companies maintain the ability to use the ports, and those companies are owned by the local politicians, oligarchs, and organized crime. In the RFE, these groups are typically one and the same. Although the current structure of ROC in eastern Russia is changing because of a recent rash of assassinations and elections, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that, in time, ROC would collaborate with Central Asian traffickers to export shipments of heroin.


    Drugs have spurred a surge in crime and corruption in Siberia and the RFE. These districts are areas that have long suffered the legacy of the Soviet state prison camp system, or gulags, which were scattered across Siberia and the RFE. Because of this legacy, cities in these districts have disproportionately large criminal populations. While many criminals only engage in hooliganism, sophisticated ones have been able to corrupt local officials for favors, shipping contracts, mining rights, fishing permits, or access to tax-free and duty-free raw materials to sell abroad, which costs the economy billions of rubles (poaching alone costs the Russian economy an estimated US$1.5 billion a year).

    The Siberian city of Irkutsk carries the dubious title of “Russia’s Crime Capital,” having experienced a rash of violent crimes over the past 2 years. The media report almost daily on violent robberies, car-jackings, extortion, kidnappings, contract killings, counterfeiting, and arms dealing. Other criminals in Irkutsk bribe corrupt officials to steal tons of nonferrous metals for further resale. Police believe that Irkutsk-based organized criminal groups are active in drug trafficking as well.

    Although the RFE is the least populous Russian district, it has the country’s highest drug-related crime rate: while Russia has an average of 165 drug-related crimes per 100,000 people, the RFE had 235 crimes per 100,000 in 2001. Within the RFE, the Jewish Autonomous Region had 398 crimes per 100,000 people, in the Maritime Region there were 302, and in Khabarovsk city there were 270. In 2002, the Khabarovsk Region claimed the highest rate of drug-related crimes (2,838 incidents).

    Riddled with poverty and violent crime, Vladivostok is referred to as the “Wild East.” It has the sixth highest crime rate in the country, despite being Russia’s 23rd largest city. Between January and June 2002, there were 370 murders or attempted murders reported in the Vladivostok area. Although this is only slightly higher than 2000 figures, more innocent bystanders were killed by erratic gunfire. In 2001, over 54,000 felonies were reported in the Maritime Region alone, most of which were related to organized crime. The disparity between the rich (a number of wealthy criminals) and poor is clearly demonstrated by statistical data, ranking Vladivostok fifth in Russia in terms of consumer spending, but 80th in per capita income.

    Even remote Magadan, an area north of Vladivostok, has witnessed a surge of organized crime and corruption surrounding the fishing and gold mining industries (Magadan has Russia’s largest gold reserves). Local criminals maintain tight connections with those in the shipping industry in Vladivostok. Russian authorities speculate that the October 2002 murder of Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov was related to his attempts to take the shipping business out of organized crime or to curtail the sale of gold on the black market.

    Low- and mid-level regional corruption is one of the primary reasons President Putin created Russia’s Federal District system in 2000. Corruption grew as Moscow’s tight control over Russia’s 89 areas and regions was relaxed under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Over time, this lax oversight became tacit permission for some of the more isolated regions to act independently of Moscow. Many regional politicians are communist-era bureaucrats, who label themselves democrats, yet maintain Soviet-era authority. The corruption became so rampant that President Putin installed a Plenipotentiary Presidential Representative for each Federal District, whose job is to oversee new regional legislation and to enforce federal laws, where needed. Unfortunately, the regional politicians largely ignore new legislation.


    The desolate 6,846-kilometer border separating Russia and Kazakhstan is relatively open and unprotected. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, new trafficking routes developed as border controls with Central Asian States weakened. One major route that grew is the northern Afghan channel, which transits Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and leads to Kazakhstan. From Kazakhstan, the route generally leads to Russia’s southern border cities of Omsk, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, Ufa, and Irkutsk. Although 90 percent of Russia’s heroin seizures occur near the Kazakh border, Russian officials believe that between 90 and 98 percent of the drugs still pass through. Recent seizure statistics in these cities lead analysts to believe that larger and more frequent shipments of heroin are shipped to Siberia. Omsk, the site of the largest heroin seizures in 2001 and 2002, has an estimated addict population of 100,000, out of a total population of 1.3 million. Irkutsk has an estimated user population of 130,000, out of a total population of 570,000.

    Historically, couriers smuggled small amounts of heroin into Russia for distribution, either by swallowing or hand-carried in their luggage. However, recent bulk seizures confirm statements of Russian authorities, who have informed DEA Moscow that heroin stockpiles are now being stored in Russia, rather than in Central Asia. This trend may have been fueled by the ease of cross-border smuggling and increased heroin demand in Russia. Heroin shipments appear to be broken down in “storage depots” in southern Russian cities and repackaged for further transit, either towards Moscow or the RFE. One such channel exists from Irkustsk to Yekatrinburg to Moscow, along the trans-Siberian railroad. Since roads in this area are often dilapidated or non-existent, air and rail are the most common methods used to ship goods.

    Local media state that Central Asian heroin smugglers are aware that security is lax along the Russia-Kazakhstan border, and they often brag that they can pass through the border without documentation for their cargo. It is not a difficult task to avoid Russian border guards on the flat steppes, where posts are often from 100 to 300 kilometers apart. According to the head of the Russian Federal Border Service, it would cost Russia 17 billion rubles (approximately US$542 million) to fix border security problems with Kazakhstan.

    Smugglers do not find it difficult to skip customs altogether, even if they cross the border legally. After 1991, when new customs checkpoints were established in newly independent Russia, they were placed in nearby border cities, rather than on the actual border, as a convenience to customs employees. Therefore, customs inspections often do not occur until many kilometers inside the actual border, creating a comfortable buffer zone for the smuggler between the border and customs inspections. The risk of interdiction is also low for train couriers because tightened train schedules force customs officials to make only cursory checks. For example, the train that passes between Petropavel, Kazakhstan, and Isilkul, Russia, runs several times a day. Russian Customs officials are permitted only 10 minutes to check the documents and goods held by shuttle traders before the train heads back into Kazakhstan. This is insufficient time for Russian Customs officials to search for concealed drugs.
    In February 2003, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan began talks to form the “Union of Four,” a single economic zone designed to promote the free movement of labor, capital, and goods. Although this union will likely stimulate trade, it may further impede drug enforcement efforts by customs officials and police.


    Weak borders and an increased demand for heroin in Russia provide the impetus for many poverty-stricken people from Central Asia to participate in the drug trade. Tajik traffickers have taken over some of the areas previously controlled by Nigerians, Azeris, and Chechens. Although these groups are still prevalent in western Russia, Tajiks have grown to control most of eastern Russia’s market. One Russian account states that Nigerian dealers must now buy their heroin from Tajiks, rather than from West African importers. Tajiks are engaging Russian gangs over the heroin market, sometimes violently. Russian law enforcement authorities have found it difficult to penetrate these Tajik groups with informants or undercover agents, because they are based on clan and tribal ties. Even worse, sometimes Tajik groups hold a courier’s family members hostage, threatening to kill them if the courier talks to police after an arrest.

    Although significant amounts of heroin are still smuggled to Russia by air courier, most heroin is driven into Russia by truck or in train cargo. Tajik and Uzbek traffickers exploit the legitimate fruit and vegetable trade between Russia and Central Asia by concealing heroin in food shipments. One trafficker told a Russian newspaper that a truck hauling 20 tons of fruit can hide 200 kilograms of heroin. A typical operation includes several families, usually from one clan, who collaborate to ship goods to Russia. Drivers are hired, and clan representatives accompany them. Smugglers are paid between US$300 and US$400, and given round-trip tickets if they are traveling by rail or air. The smugglers require careful negotiating skills, since Russian and Kazakh law enforcement officials regularly stop vehicles driven by Central Asians. The trafficker also stated that low-level officers can generally be bribed to allow suspect cargo to pass through, while higher ranking officers are less susceptible. However, if a trafficker is caught by any officer with drugs in-hand, it is unlikely he could buy his way out of the situation.

    Chinese Traffickers

    Although the majority of opiates are trafficked across the Kazakh border, the 3,645-kilometer border between China and Russia is also significant. Chinese traffickers distribute synthetic stimulants and some opiates, and typically will cross into the RFE’s Maritime, Amur, and Jewish Autonomous Districts disguised as shuttle traders. Although Russia estimates that 61 percent of ephedrine smugglers are ethnic Russians returning from China, there is a large body of evidence that Chinese citizens, some of whom are associated with large international Chinese triads, are involved in cross-border smuggling.

    Korean Traffickers

    While Central Asians are RFE’s primary heroin traffickers, both the U.S. and Russian authorities suspect that North Korean traffickers have been smuggling opiates and synthetic stimulants into the RFE for years. Russian analysts believe that, in the mid-1990s, North Koreans shifted their focus to methamphetamine production to offset heroin revenues lost when their opium poppy crops dwindled, and when Central Asians began taking over the eastern market. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) blames North Korean traffickers for the increasing rates of opiate and methamphetamine abuse in the RFE.

    North Korean traffickers operating in the RFE typically consist of seasonal workers in the Russian timber, agricultural, and maritime industries. The Federal Migration Service stated that in 2001, over 2,000 North Korean workers passed into the Vladivostok area. There is also ample evidence that North Korean diplomats engage in trafficking. In 2000, there were at least five reported incidents of North Korean officials smuggling opium and heroin into the RFE. However, there is little evidence to indicate that the Korean Government ordered them to act as drug couriers.


    Russian law enforcement authorities have taken a number of steps to address the drug problem in Siberia and the RFE. Russia cooperates with the Governments of Central Asia, as well as South Korea, Japan, China, and the United States, on international investigations. In one case, a 2-year investigation between Russian Customs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and their Japanese counterparts resulted in the arrest of a Russian sailor in Abasiri, Japan. Five Russian couriers were detained and more than 19 kilograms of opium were seized. Unfortunately, significant cooperation between investigators in Russia and Kazakhstan is still lacking, largely due to Russia’s mistrust of their Central Asian colleagues.

    Russian law enforcement authorities have long associated drug trafficking with terrorism. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Russian MVD stepped up their annual Operation Anti-Terror, which targets drug-related criminals in eastern Siberia. The success of this operation led to another successful Operation Anti-Terror in September 2002. According to the Russian media, 985 crimes, mostly drug-related, were investigated and 30 kilograms of drugs were seized.

    In September 2002, the DEA and the U.S. Department of State signed a Letter of Agreement with Russia to establish the Southern Borders Project (SBP). The SBP will create and equip interagency task forces in Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, and Omsk, three significant heroin trafficking bottlenecks along Siberia’s southern border. While inter-agency task forces and mobile enforcement teams are commonplace in U.S. drug enforcement, Russia has practically no experience managing groups comprised of different agencies. The DEA hopes that the success of the SBP will lead to the creation of similar task forces in the cities of Astrakhan, Novorossiysk, and St. Petersburg.

    During the June-July 2002 interdiction blitz under Operation Containment, SECI and the DEA Moscow Country Office established the Bishkek Command Center (BCC) in Kyrgyzstan as a regional tactical and analytical center. The BCC was comprised of law enforcement representatives from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Although the BCC was operational for only the duration of the blitz, these countries successfully worked together in conducting joint operations. It is hoped that a new regional intelligence-sharing center will be located in Central Asia based on the BCC’s successes.


    Although the problems facing Siberia and the RFE are presently domestic issues for the Russian Government, the impact on Russia’s neighbors could be substantial if organized crime and Central Asian heroin traffickers continue to proliferate. The Russian Government has already taken steps to address the issues of crime and poverty in Russia’s federal districts. In 2002, President Putin brought more national attention to drugs, turning the war on drugs into a fight against terrorism and for Russia’s future. As a sign of his determination, he signed an edict in March 2003 that consolidates the efforts of over 30 federal agencies, which have a counterdrug emphasis, into one agency. The Russian State Committee for the Control of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Goskomnark, or GKPN) will be staffed with 40,000 employees, and will operate as an independent ministry, rather than under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The GKPN was formally established in July 2003, and will absorb the 7,300 staff members of the former Drug Control Department.

    Through Operation CONTAINMENT and the upcoming SBP, the DEA will continue to work closely with Russia’s law enforcement agencies to engage traffickers smuggling in Afghan heroin. However, much more remains to be done. Central Asian traffickers have already demonstrated their skill in moving large amounts of drugs into eastern Russia, while ROC groups have shown clear control of Russian ports. Since ROC permits the distribution of heroin in areas they control within Russia, it would take little imagination, and only a few more entrepreneurial steps, for them to start exporting heroin from Russia’s eastern ports to markets in Japan, South Korea, and the United States. At present, there is no concrete evidence linking Russia’s Pacific ports to large-scale drug traffic to the United States. This situation may radically change as economic relations and commercial trade between the United States and Russia strengthens.

    1 Pacific Rim countries, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia, border the Pacific Ocean and share significant trade and commercial ties.

    2 SECI member countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovena, Bulgaria, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, and Turkey. Other Western European countries and the United States are represented as observers.

    3 By comparison, the United States has an area of 9,629,091 square kilometers and a population of nearly 281 million, or 29.1 people per square kilometer.

    4 Although the official number of registered addicts in Russia is approximately 300,000, experts believe that the unofficial number is 10 times higher.

    This report was prepared by the Europe, Asia, Africa Strategic Intelligence Unit, Regional Strategic Intelligence Section, Office of Strategic Intelligence. This report reflects information received prior to April 2003.

    Dear list members,

    Apologies to those of you who have seen this request before.

    I work at the the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at King’s College, London. We are conducting a two-year Joseph Rowntree Foundation funded study about non-problematic, recreational and controlled heroin use.

    We are currently trying to recruit anyone who has used heroin at least once in the last six months to take part in an anonymous and confidential on-line survey, which can be found at:

    The website provides detailed information about the Insitute, the JRF, and the study itself.

    We are also conducting interviews with individuals who have used heroin at least once in the last six months and who don’t perceive their use to be a problem. Interviewees are paid for their time. If you, or anybody you may know, would be interested in taking part, please ring or email me. My contact details can be found on the study website. Or, if you have any other queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    Best wishes


    I’ll vouch for this.

    I met Hamish and gave a confidential interview. He was sound.

    The final report will be on ministers desks. Because the research is funded by an independant charity and not government the results can’t be sat on by govt if they think the results are uncomfortable reading.

    Take part and get your views heard, if it applies to you.

    Sticky added so this stays at the top.

    Whilst I am thankful I actually have nothing to add in the way of usage info to Hamish’s study; I fully support its aims.

    I am and always will be uncomomfortable with the thought of heroin becoming a “party” drug; however I am fully aware of its increasing popularity nowadays; research of this nature is vital for all of society to understand the effects of drug use.

    Originally posted by General Lighting

    Whilst I am thankful I actually have nothing to add in the way of usage info to Hamish’s study; I fully support its aims.

    Don’t get me wrong.. i still stand by what I’ve said in another thread about where heroin use can take people (down in a hurry) and have lost friends to this substance.However, in fantastic hypocrite style, I do occasionally use. Contradiction makes us human 😉

    In the same way that i am absolutely certain that I will never become an alcoholic because of my personality (when things are going wrong I avoid getting drunk/stoned/whatever and I very much enjoy ‘reality’ most of the time) I am certain that I will never allow myself to use heroin on any basis that could lead me to addiction (for eg. on any regular basis)

    I remember seeing someone smoke a crack pipe on top of a speaker stack at a rave I went to in about ’93 (Universe) and I can remember some of the people I hang out with used to smoke H after a club or party to eliminate the comedown.

    Seemed daft then, as it does now. I always feel very nauseous the next day… e comedowns I can usually smoke my way through, with the aid of a couple of ciders.

    Anyway, a valid and important study. Good luck with it Hamish

    hey there,

    i am writing some fiction which involves someone watching someone do heroin, that is smoke it.

    I have never done it and only seen people smoke heroin in a corner once, and did not pay attention to the details, so i am wondering if there is anyone out there who would like to help me out with filling these in.

    Just describe the technicalities of the process of preparation and smoking.

    post it here or e-mail me, if you want, my e-mail adress is

    I personally think that any fictional representation of drug use is hollow, at best, if it isn’t backed up with experience 😮

    i agree with globalloon and also the people who post on this site tend to be recreational drug users not junkies.

    It is well known worldwide that alcohol is banned in Islamic countries – but there has been some ambiguity over the use of other drugs..

    Pakistan clerics issue heroin ban

    Leading religious scholars in Pakistan have decreed that the use of heroin is un-Islamic, in a move designed to curb a surge in the drug’s popularity.

    The decree, or fatwa, was issued at a seminar in the western province of Baluchistan, next to Afghanistan.

    The seminar brought together Islamic scholars and officers from the military’s anti-narcotics force.

    Pakistan is gripped by an unprecedented heroin and opium crisis – a product of the poppy boom in Afghanistan.

    Resources to tackle the smugglers and rehabilitate the users are thinly stretched.

    Baluchistan, with its vast wilderness of unpoliceable mountains and deserts, faces the greatest threat from the smuggling and consumption of opium and heroin from neighbouring Afghanistan.

    Poppy ‘misapprehension’

    The seminar in Quetta saw Pakistan’s military Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) teaming up with some of the country’s foremost Islamic scholars and preachers.

    The idea behind the seminar was to use their reach and influence to convey the message that the cultivation and use of drugs go against the Koran.

    Among those attending were 40 mufti – or scholars entitled to issue fatwas – from all districts of Baluchistan.

    The seminar followed a statement from a lesser religious leader some time ago that some cultivation of poppy – the base crop for opium and heroin – was permissible for medicinal purposes.

    One of Pakistan’s leading Islamic scholars, Professor Anis Ahmad, dismissed this as a complete misapprehension.

    “The scholars all over the ages are unanimous that things which envelop our reason, which cause illusions and hallucinations, all those drugs and chemicals which lead to a life which is not real, these are prohibited,” he said.

    Most of the heroin which ends up in Western European markets is smuggled through Pakistan.

    Much spills off the trafficking routes for local use.

    Pakistan currently has about half-a-million heroin addicts.

    Story from BBC NEWS:





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