This week, Ebrahim Raisi’s interior minister used a top-level meeting on the transformation of Iran’s anti-narcotics policies to make an unusual claim to the media. On Tuesday, October 19, Ahmad Vahidi ventured: "Ninety percent of narcotics discoveries are made by Iran."
The remarks came in response to an accusation by the president of Azerbaijan, who had claimed Armenia had been smuggling drugs into Europe with Tehran’s help for the past 30 years.
"No one in the world can confirm these statements,” Vahidi declared. “There are official statistics that 90 percent of drug discoveries in the world are by the Islamic Republic of Iran, while some recipient countries have less than one percent of discoveries."
Are 90 percent of the world's discoveries of narcotics made in Iran? Is the rest of the world’s share just 10 percent? In this report, IranWire attempts to answer these questions.
Narcotics Seizures Across the Globe
To understand the role of each country in the detection and confiscation of narcotics, we must first answer the question: where in the world are narcotics produced and where are the transit routes? As a rule, countries on the transit routes can and should play a heightened role in impounding illegal drugs.
According to a 2021 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the world’s foremost producer of opium, morphine and heroin products, accounting for 83 percent of glboal production by itself. Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are the biggest known producers of cocaine and cannabis.
The same report found that just 13 percent of drug addicts worldwide were addicted to opioids, such as heroin and morphine (the principal drug exports of Afghanistan). The other 87 percent primarily used non-opioid substances such as cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines or prescription medication.
Iran is the most important known transit route into Europe for narcotics produced in Afghanistan. The following map shows transit routes of opium, heroin and morphine, with Iran at its center but not limited to Iran:
Various countries are involved in the transit of drugs to Afghanistan, but the UN report states that Iran, Turkey and Pakistan are the main waystations in the transit of opiates around the world. Though Afghanistan is the biggest producer, it pointed out, these three countries are also often the countries of origin.
The map above focuses on the transfer of heroin. Unlike opioids in general, Iran is not a major country identified as a transit point for this particular drug. The following map also shows that none of the main transit routes for cocaine pass through Iran either:
As such, is it likely that 90 percent of the world's illegal drugs are intercepted in Iran and all other countries’ share is 10 percent? The answer, of course, is no.
The UNODC notes that 102 countries contributed to the discovery of opium and heroin in 2019. Of these, 98 percent of the substances detected were reported by Turkey, Iran and Pakistan: that is to say, three countries that were among the main points of origin were also where the authorities impounded the most drugs. But while Iran might detect and report large quantities of opioids every year, the authorities play a minor role at best in seizing other types of drugs.
Other countries on different transit routes have intercepted large shipments of different types of drugs. For instance, according to the UNODC, 94 percent of all cocaine detected in North America was smuggled via the United States, which reported having caught 277 tons of that drug in 2019: equivalent to 18 percent of the total amount of cocaine detected in the world. Nineteen percent of cocaine in Central America was discovered and reported by Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica, and another large proportion was impounded by European countries.
Iran also has a very small share in the interception of other types of drugs. For example, according to the UNODC, the largest amounts of methamphetamine are found annually by officials in the US; Iran ranks seventh after the US, Thailand, Mexico, China, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Iran is not among the top 15 countries for the confiscation of ecstasy pills. The bulk of these, again, were intercepted by the US, followed by Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Iran also ranks tenth after the United States, Mexico, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Turkey, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Netherlands for the detection of hallucinogenic substances:
Finally, this spreadsheet details the total amounts of drugs discovered and reported to the UNODC by all the countries of the world in the years 2015 to 2019. Contrary to Ahmad Vahidi’s claim that 90 percent of the world's narcotic discoveries take place in Iran, Iran has a small share of the total reported haul because just 13 percent of the world's drugs are produced in Afghanistan and transited to the world via Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. That is, 87 percent of all the world’s drugs do not pass through Iran, and as such it would be practically impossible for 90 percent to be found there.
Another point worth noting is that in 2019, Iran discovered 656 tons of opium, 18.2 tons of morphine and 17 tons of heroin. But that same year, the total global production stood at more than 7,500 tons of opium, most of which was transited through Iran. According to a 2021 UN report, 98 percent of heroin found in Belgium had come through Iran as well as 60 percent of heroin in Italy. In other words, the Islamic Republic has largely failed to intercept the drugs passing through its borders.
"Ninety percent of drug discoveries are made by Iran," Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi claimed on October 19. IranWire’s review of the evidence shows it would be numerically impossible for this to be true: drugs transited through Iran, Pakistan and Turkey make up only 13 percent of the total trafficked in the world, and the Islamic Republic is failing to catch most of them. Therefore, IranWire awards Ahmad Vahidi’s claim an “untrue” badge.
You can read about our fact-checking methodology here.
Read other articles in this series: