London: SOCA Comments On Reported UK Heroin Shortages: UPDATED

1 Feb

Data from European drugs testing company Concateno has indicated an ongoing drop in the number of people in treatment for heroin addiction testing positive for opiates since April 2010.

SOCA has responded to requests for its insights into the likely reasons for this, and apparent shortages of heroin in the UK.

The severe flooding in Pakistan during 2010, and exaggerated perceptions of a ‘poppy blight’ in Afghanistan, have had an impact. Alongside this, international and domestic law enforcement bodies have put the heroin trade under increasing pressure, which has led to:

  • Instances of heroin being traded at up to £40,000 a kilo at wholesale – a rise of 50% in approximately one year
  • Typical heroin purity falling by almost a third between late 2009 and late 2010
  • The displacement of major trafficking groups from key points along the heroin trade route to Europe
  • The dismantling of UK distribution networks and their international suppliers

In explanation, SOCA’s Nigel Kirby said:

“We are working very closely with partners on the heroin route from Afghanistan to Turkey and onwards across Europe. High-quality intelligence is being produced, shared in real time, and acted upon.

“This is enabling international law enforcement to take effective action against the people behind the heroin trade in a variety of ways, from the seizure of over 2000kg of heroin in 2009/10 before it ever reached the UK, to damaging the criminal credibility of traffickers and going after their assets.”

Turkey has been an important staging post for heroin being moved from source in Afghanistan towards Europe, and Nigel continued:

“Work with the Turkish National Police has led to the imprisonment in Turkey of key figures in the trafficking of heroin through the country towards Europe and the UK. One individual, believed to be behind huge amounts of heroin traffic over several years, was arrested by Turkish authorities in early 2010. Another major supplier, as well as the UK importer he was working with, is awaiting trial in Istanbul, too.

“The success of law enforcement operations in Turkey has led crime groups to base themselves further upstream, enabling authorities to seize heroin even closer to source.”

Nigel emphasised the importance of detections in instances where heroin does reach UK borders. The discovery of 153kg of heroin in late 2009 led to an operation to dismantle a major South Africa-based crime group. And in November 2010, 80kg of heroin were found at the port of Felixtowe by UK Border Agency officers.

“The drugs therefore haven’t reached our streets”, says Nigel, “and we’ve seen the impact of that seizure in the region. Additionally, we believe that the intelligence gained from that seizure will help prevent further attempts to bring heroin into the UK.”

“There will be heroin that slips through the net, and we work closely with police colleagues throughout the country to tackle this, as well. In one operation, we provided intelligence that not only helped a regional force to seize over 100kgs heroin from significant distributors, but additionally, and more painfully for the dealers, enabled the confiscation of over £500,000 of their cash. The principal target of that investigation pleaded guilty of Conspiracy to Supply heroin last November.”

The impact of efforts to confront the heroin trade from source to border appears to have affected the cost of procuring the drug. Nigel added:

“We’re seeing wholesale prices for heroin increasing throughout the supply chain, making it more difficult for criminals to do business.  In the UK in 2009/10, 1kg heroin cost around £15-17,000 at wholesale.  We now understand that – when they can get it – dealers are prepared to pay £20,000 and upwards, and we very recently became aware of organised crime groups trading high quality heroin for around £40,000.

“In line with that, typical street purity fell from 46% in September 2009 to around 32% in Sept 2010.  Suppliers are adding more cutting agents to maintain profits, and this reduced purity is likely to be noticed by end users.”

Finally, Nigel articulated the knowledge that those seeking to traffic heroin present a constant challenge to law enforcement, both at home and internationally:

“SOCA knows that when crime groups are dismantled, others are always keen to take their place. Major drug traffickers are also relentless in seeking new ways to evade detection and benefit financially from the misery they bring to communities.  We are very conscious of the continuing need for international law enforcement to adapt and innovate in line with the challenges posed by the illegal drugs trade.” &


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