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Multi-Ton Seizures of Morphine Confirm Burgeoning Heroin Market


March 1993

Seizures totaling 7.5 tons of morphine base between mid-December 1992 and January 1993 have confirmed what Turkish and American narcotics agents have long suspected -- that the European heroin market is undergoing a major boom (Alan Cowell, "Heroin Pouring Through Porous European Borders," New York Times, 2/9/93, A3).

The 7.5 tons of morphine base, which can be refined into an equivalent amount of pure heroin, is more than five times the 1.4 ton total of morphine base and heroin seized throughout the United States in 1992. A recent multi-ton seizure occurred January 7 near the Suez Canal when Turkish narcotics agents, aided by U.S. intelligence, seized a freighter headed for the southeastern Turkish port of Bodrum and found 2.7 tons of morphine base aboard. On December 15, agents were stymied when a Turkish freighter was scuttled that Turkish intelligence agents had observed being loaded with 170 bags of morphine base weighing 3.8 tons. During this period Turkish agents seized 1.3 tons of morphine base on two trucks that had traveled from Afghanistan.

An estimated 70 percent of the heroin reaching Europe now transits Istanbul, officials say. Some of that ends up in the U.S. The morphine base originates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is transformed into heroin in laboratories in the Istanbul area. U.S. narcotics agents estimate that the huge seizures account for roughly 10 percent of the overall traffic. An American agent told the Times: "Just because you seize two ships doesn't mean the traffickers are going to stop. If there's a demand, the drugs are going to get there. It may change the way traffickers do business, but it's not going to stop them."

Turkish officials blame the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party or PKK, a Marxist separatist group, for promoting the heroin trade to fund their insurgency. Turkish authorities have a long-standing hatred of the PKK and have tried to discredit the group by linking them to the drug trade. But Western narcotics agents have come to share the belief that the PKK is deeply involved in the drug trade, either by facilitating transshipment of narcotics or by themselves participating in drug smuggling. Officials allege that the Turkish smugglers are now cooperating with the Italian Mafia.

The influx of morphine base and the explosion of heroin use is being further facilitated by the dissolution of communist hegemony in Eastern Europe and the dismantling of borders within Western Europe.