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Tackling the Major Drugs Threats

Our international approach reflects the Class A drugs threat to the UK, as evidenced by seizures and intelligence from a wide range of sources about production and trafficking routes and trends. The aim of our interventions is to strengthen law enforcement and other drugs interdiction capacities overseas, so reducing the movement of Class A drugs, primarily heroin and cocaine, through source and transit countries to the UK.


Drugs derived from the opium poppy, Papaver Somniferum, are known as opiates. Approximately 95% of the 20-30 tonnes of heroin used in the UK each year originates in Afghanistan. The main trafficking route for Afghan opiates to the UK is through Iran and/or Pakistan for onward shipment through Turkey, where processing into heroin often takes place. Around 80% of the heroin that reaches the UK transits Turkey and established trafficking routes through the Balkans.

Morphine and heroin are derived from opium (the dried milk of the opium poppy) by chemical process. Morphine is one of the most effective drugs known for the relief of pain and its legal use is restricted primarily to hospitals. Pure heroin is a white powder, with crystals resembling powdered sugar or fine grade flour. It can be found in a variety of colours - on the white-grey-brown spectrum – according to source and the manufacturing process. The higher the purity, the whiter the drug.

Heroin is usually manufactured in the regions where poppy grows, or in neighbouring countries close to source. As it takes approximately 10 kilos of opium to produce one kilo of morphine, it makes economic sense (as well as practical sense) to move the finished product rather than the raw material.


Cocaine, the most potent naturally occurring stimulant, is derived from the leaves of the coca bush, which grows in the Andes region of South America. Since ancient times, the indigenous peoples of this region have chewed the leaves to relieve fatigue and hunger. Pure cocaine was originally isolated in the late 19th century and used as an anaesthetic in surgery.

Coca is grown in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Cocaine production from coca paste is mainly undertaken in Colombia. Trafficking routes are diverse, but around 65% of cocaine entering Europe is believed to transit the Caribbean.