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The Transforming Threat of Southwest Asia's Narcotics Industry

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010

On Oct. 17, Iranian border guards clashed with drug traffickers on the wild Iran-Afghan frontier and subsequently seized 331 lbs of narcotics contraband. The incident would be just one of many such skirmishes that take place every week, were it not for one difference: The seized drugs were not the usual suspects of Afghan opium and hashish, but rather synthetic drugs, highlighting alarming changes to the Southwest Asian narcotics industry.

Synthetic drugs, such as potent crystal meth (called "shisheh," or "glass" in Farsi), LSD and various forms of refined heroin (including a smokable, condensed-rock form referred to locally as "crack") are flooding South Asia and feeding the region's underground drug culture. Iranian authorities recently stated that the increase in synthetic drugs over the past two years is part of a nefarious marketing strategy by drug traffickers to change addiction behaviors and transform demand from conventional drugs like opium and hashish to those most prevalent in the West. However, the implications of the emerging trends reported from the Iranian front are not restricted to regional concerns. Rather, the production of synthetic drugs -- especially cheaply made amphetamine-type-stimulants (ATS), which include the street variants of ecstasy -- has major global implications for addiction habits, social and health costs, as well as security concerns. ...

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