Today, we look at the geographies of heroin, another very deadly drug. It is connected to terrorism (especially in Afghanistan), international violent crime, corruption, and efforts by many governments to control its flow. These control efforts have not been particularly effective, alas.

The plant

Here is a brief note about heroin. It is derived from the latex, a milky liquid, that is produced by the seed pod of

The opium plant, Papaver somniferum. (Source: [Accessed: Dec. 2017]

the plant called Papaver somniferum. Read more about this plant here (all links open in a new tab/window).  Note that the plant’s latex is used to derive several other drugs as well, collectively called opioids.

Production and flow areas

Afghanistan and Myanmar are, by far the biggest producers of heroin (see graph). Other countries produce very little compared to these two. (To see a larger image, click on it; it will open in a new tab/window)

Opium production in Afghanistan and Myanmar, the two biggest producers. Source: UNODC. (2010) “The Globalization of Crime – A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment.” [Accessed Nov. 2017]

There are many reasons for these two countries to be producing so much of it. Their site features (local climate, topography, soil, local corruption, poverty, etc.) and their situation features (connections to other countries through the illegal trade routes). The high demand around the world also attracts the flow of the drug into different countries.

Look at this map.

Opium and heroin from Afghanistan and Myanmar, the world’s largest producers. Source: UNODC. (2010) “The Globalization of Crime – A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment.” [Accessed Nov. 2017]

The arrows show:

  • The direction of the movement (from and to, names of regions/countries),
  • What is moving (heroin; shown in dark red colour), and
  • How much of it is moving (shown by the width of the arrows).

Here are other maps with slightly different details:

Geographies of heroin, one of the deadly drugs being trafficked around the world. (Source: UN World Drug Report 2016. [Accessed: Dec. 2017]

Map of the geography of heroin. Source: Vice News (2016); 26 April 2016: “The Golden Age of Drug Trafficking: How Meth, Cocaine, and Heroin Move Around the World.” [Accessed Nov. 2017]


As with any other narcotic drug being trafficked, heroin (and other derivatives from the opium plant latex) is extremely addictive. Once hooked, getting rid of the addiction is extremely difficult, if at all possible.

This addiction leads to decline in the health of the user and makes the user vulnerable to deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Users lose their connections with social support networks (family, friends, colleagues, etc.), become more and more isolated and desperate. Since they become unable to earn a steady and adequate income, they turn to different means of paying for their drugs. This is where things get particularly ugly.

When a society has a large number of such users, the overall health of the society also suffers. Therefore, heroin use becomes both a public health issue and national security issue.

Helping addicts

In most countries, including India, there are many government-funded and private organizations that offer help to those addicted to these drugs. Through difficult and often long-duration programs, they help addicts to re-integrate with society to lead safer and healthier lives.

The recovery process involves not just the addict, but their immediate support network of families and friends.

In all this, they are provided safe spaces (there is that geography again!) where they can stay on the course to recovery.

Fighting crime

Many countries have declared narcotic drugs illegal. Therefore, possession, use, and supply are all criminal acts. This approach has been showing limited success. In some countries (e.g. Netherlands), the government regulates the drugs and users are provided safe spaces (geography again) where they can use those drugs. They are also provided help to get over the addiction. All approaches to combating the flow of drugs are effective only to a limited extent.

The main problem is how to reduce the demand.

These deadly geographies have deadly consequences. They also challenge our sense of compassion towards those who are addicted to them:

  • How can we go from condemning them entirely to treating them with compassion?
  • Is that even possible?
  • Is it necessary?

These questions are very important and the answers are not easy. What do you think?

Things you can do:

  1. Apply the bulk reduction, value addition concepts to heroin.
  2. Find out about the socio-economic and political conditions of Afghanistan and Myanmar. These will help you understand some of the factors contributing to the large cultivation of opium plants.
  3. Find out about the situation regarding the use of narcotics in India. This will be particularly challenging because it is not easy to find the data.
  4. Consider the geography of one or more narcotic substances as a project for your geography class. Use your study to spread the word about the dangers of using narcotics; this is how you can be a citizen geographer. Need help? Contact us at We’ll be glad to help in any way we can.
  5. Find out about centers in your town that offer de-addiction and other services to help drug addicts. Make it a part of your class project.

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.

Featured image, courtesy: Vice News (citation above)


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