Heroin overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled (2002-2013) in America according to the CDC. This quiet trend is continuing as we head into 2016. Recreational use is surpassing the heydays of the 1970s and the users/addicts are not restricted to race, gender, or economic demographic. Those affected include teenagers, housewives, and software engineers.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime tells us that each gram of Afghan opium (Afghanistan poppy fields grow nearly 90 percent of the world’s opium) produces 100 grams of heroin with a base sale price in Europe and the U.S. of 180.00/gram. A kilogram of pure Afghan heroin goes for about $5,000 American. When cut and distributed, it brings in $300,000. The surge in Afghanistan was not only from U.S. troops in 2009; the biggest surge was in opium cultivation, heroin production, and global distribution.

Opium/heroin money fills the coffers of the Taliban. This multi-billion dollar industry has allowed the Taliban to rebuild, organize, and fight. They have conducted successful offensives in the Helmand Province, the Sangin District, regained traditional warlord territories, and regained other rural areas. While the Afghan government forces counterattacks, they do not have the resolve (not to mention air power) that the U.S.-led coalition displayed after 9/11.

President G.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had a plan to work together to change the poppy fields into legitimate agriculture areas that would provide crops for the people and a source of income to the government. “Operation Containment” was a DEA-led, multinational law enforcement program that had a significant effect in the early years, yet as with our reduction in military operations, Operation Containment also wound down, leaving another type of vacuum from which the drug trade aggressively flourished.

The January 2002 TF-K-Bar/SEAL Team 3 Echo mission in the Zhawar Kili cave complex opened my eyes to the vast amounts of opium produced in Afghanistan. In the caves, kilogram packages were stacked more than six feet high, 20-plus feet deep in numerous areas. Even the pictures didn’t do it justice, but showed how easily opium is produced and stored for export.

Today, Colombia is still the number one exporter of heroin into the United States, but that could change. According to the global research website for the U.N., Colombia has a little more than 5,000 hectares of usable land for opium production. In comparison, Afghanistan has 180,000 to 225,000 hectares to cultivate their premium export. Opium is not only a drug conglomerate, it has become an indirect (if not direct) weapon that radical Islamists are able to use because our strategic planners have chosen to ignore the growing trend. It is not a coincidence.

The Taliban are a little busy these days as ISIS is making headway into the region. Opium production is slightly down this year due to the combination of weather patterns and growing conflicts, not due to any efforts from the U.N., the Pentagon, or the White House. Ignoring a threat situation does not make it go away, and just because it is not plastered on a mainstream media network does not mean that it is not, or will not soon be, a mainstream problem. The opium business will continue to expand. The possibility that ISIS could potentially add opium sales to their list of funding sources requires a direct examination and focus on the global heroin epidemic and continuing rise of radical Islam.

(Featured image courtesy of newsweek.com)