The value chain of an international drug trade

Rasmus Brygger
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Afghanistan is one of the world's primary sources of opium (Source: Getty)

There are many reasons to end the war on drugs. One can point to the huge incarceration rates, how criminalisation hurts the people already at the bottom of our society or one can focus on the moral aspect of the right to self-ownership. But perhaps the most indicative of the negative consequences of the war is shown from a quick look at the value chain of narcotics.

Value chain is a term taken from business management describing how a product or service moves through a set of activities before it ends up being sold. In the example of narcotics, three intermediaries earn 96 per cent of the profits – money that is then funneled into a long list of black market activities. If we take a closer look at the production of opium, the farmers earn roughly $300 per kilogram, while the drug user pays roughly $33,000 per kilogram. The value chain is as follows:

92 per cent of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opium worldwide is produced in Afghanistan. Farmers who previously grew wheat earn roughly 11 times more by now producing opium and sell it to local warlords, many linked to the Taliban, which fund around 10-15 per cent of all their activities through selling these to international traffickers.

At this point, the price per kilogram has already more than doubled, but the real profits are made by traffickers, who are often able to let the prices grow tenfold by offering safe trade routes through bribed authorities and using mules – a workforce so cheap, that the cartels have no worries about the often terrible health consequences that often follow.

An often-used way of smuggling drugs into the West is by inserting plastic wrapped “bullets” of the narcotics inserted into the mules. If these burst, which they are likely to do, a painful death is sure to follow.

Once the opium enters the country of designation local traffickers and dealers will often be dilute it. Sometimes, it will be done with calcium powder, but other times crushed glass or even rat poison will be mixed with the narcotics further increasing the risks or taking the drugs. The problem is not just the poisonous effects of the additives, but by diluting the product, it also makes it harder for the drug users to know the exact effect of what they buy and thus increasing the likelihood of overdoses. Opium is typically synthesised into heroin. The street price of a gram of raw opium is roughly 30 – 100 times the price paid to the original opium farmer in Afghanistan.

Try for a moment to disregard your feelings about narcotics. Disregard that you would prefer a world completely without drugs and the problems that follow. Now, knowing that it’s impossible to get that perfect world – and even impossible to decrease drug use through prohibition, would you at least not prefer a world, where politics in your country did not help fund local war lords, corrupt governments, the ruthless drug traffickers and the dangerous drug dealers as well as actually hurting the drug users, who are so much in need of a helping hand? Knowing how the black market drugs travel across the Earth, hurting everything they touch, would you at least not consider, if an alternative to the war on drugs could be discussed?

There are many good reasons for abandoning the war on drugs and turning to more humane and realistic ways of helping people and decreasing addiction. There are no positives to the war on drugs – only negatives.

The value chain of narcotics is only one of many stories we at Students For Liberty would like draw attention to. This is why Students For Liberty has launched the campaign EndTheDrugWar, where we will be both on the Internet and on social media, but also at over 200 locations and 18 languages will tell why we need to put an end to the war on drugs.

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