The Golden Crescent is the global hub for production and trafficking of narcotics and comprises the illicit opium cultivation areas in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Geographical areas characterised by intensive opium cultivation or trafficking in narcotics are commonly identified and expressed in geometrical terms as “triangles” and “crescent”. The world is cluttered with innumerable drug triangles that function beyond the pale of law.
An odyssey in search of the drug triangles involves meandering into strange locales and encountering varied transnational organized crime networks. The Atlanta Jewish Heroin Triangle in the United States is an area starting in northern Atlanta, running northwest past Marietta, then east through Alpharetta to Johns Creek and Duluth and back southwest, encompassing Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. It includes parts of Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties. It gained prominence when the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit was held in downtown Atlanta on 29 March 2016, which President Barack Obama attended.
The Emerald Triangle is made up of three Northern California counties—Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. These three counties have the ideal terrain for growing a strain of the best weed and make up the largest cannabis growing region in the United States.
Angel’s Triangle (Devil’s Triangle) is a neighbourhood located in Northeast El Paso in El Paso, Texas. It lies within a right triangle bordered by Dyer Street on the east, the Patriot Freeway (U.S. Route 54) on the west, and Hondo Pass Avenue on the north. The area was notorious for drug dealers and gang activity.
Mexico’s Golden Triangle is a rural region of northern Mexico in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Durango. The Sinaloa Cartel operates in this area. In May 2022, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expressed his desire to change the name of “the Golden Triangle” to “The Triangle of Good, Hard-Working People.” For decades, drug cartels have used the area to grow marijuana and opium poppies, because much of region is difficult to access and has little police or army presence.
The Colombian “Cacao” Triangle, is formed by the Colombian villages of Guerima, Chupave and Puerto Principe, and was famous for its coca leaf production under drug lord Carlos Lehder.
The Telembi Triangle, is situated in Southern Colombia, close to the border with Ecuador, covers the municipalities of Barbacoas, Magui Payan, and Roberto Payan. Armed groups are involved in constant fighting for control of the territory.
The Northern Triangle comprises the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Local groups in the Northern Triangle administer most of the movement of cocaine, heroin, precursor chemicals, and synthetic drugs through the region. These transportistas collect a fee for their services that amounts to roughly the difference between the price at the point of collection and the price at the point of handoff.
The Colombia-Costa Rica-Mexico Triangle, is plagued by drug-trafficking. Cocaine producing Colombia, and cocaine transiting Mexico also experience very high crime rates.
Colombia shares with Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador the “Crystal Triangle”, the world’s Coca producing zone, making Colombia the world’s number one producer of processed cocaine by supplying 100% to American streets and 76% globally.
The Red Sea Terror Triangle involves Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, and is a nucleus of instability and dissension, drug trafficking apart from Islamic terror links.
The Triangle of Vulnerability is a key geographic space along Africa’s eastern seaboard—the Swahili coast. At one apex of this triangle is Zanzibar, a major hub for illicit trade for decades. Further south, another apex is northern Mozambique. This area is experiencing significant conflict and instability, and is a key route for the illicit trafficking of heroin into the continent and wildlife products from the interior. The final apex of the triangle is out to sea: the Comoros islands, lying 290 kilometers offshore from northern Mozambique and north-east of Madagascar. These three apexes are linked by illicit economies and trade routes which take little heed of modern political boundaries.
The Triangle of Death in Italy refers to the “Sicilian Connection”, the intercontinental drug chain stretching from the poppy fields of Southwest Asia to the docks and airports of New York, Boston and Miami.
The Goldel Triangle refers to the drug circuit covering Goa-Delhi-Tel Aviv.
The Silver Triangle, comprises India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Apart from the above triangles, there are various “routes” that serve as pathways for transporting Afghan Opium. The “Northern Route” through Central Asia supplies Afghan opium to Russia. The “Southern Route” through the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan, caters to a number of destinations in Asia and Africa. The “Balkan Route” traverses through the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Turkey via South Eastern Europe, to destinations in Western and Central Europe. The Balkan Route has three main branches. The Northern Branch traverses the Eastern Balkans, Bulgaria and Romania and winds into Western and Central Europe. The Southern Branch leads directly into the Schengen Area of the European Union by crossing the Greek border. Italy is the main destination of this branch. The Western Branch passes through the Western Balkans and covers Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia and involves sea and land trajectories to reach Europe. The vast majority of overall consumption is concentrated in four main markets—United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy.
The famous “Golden Triangle” countries in South-East Asia comprising parts of Myanmar, Thailand, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam, is a formidable zone. Chinese traders used to buy opium by paying in gold, hence the area came to be known as the Golden Triangle. The original Golden Triangle is an area about 150,000 sq miles, extending from Myanmar’s Chin Hills in the West, north into China’s Yunnan province, east into Laos, and Thailand’s north western provinces, and south into Myanmar’s Kayah State. Though the area under cultivation has shrunk in size, it still continues to be one of the leading suppliers of all kinds of narcotic drugs.
Recently, a new addition known as the Golden Wedge, has emerged covering the northern areas of Bangladesh, the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, and extending into Nepal and stretching up to Bhutan.
Sitting pretty ensconced at the apex of all these triangles and routes is the Golden Crescent, the global hub for production and trafficking of narcotics. The “Golden Crescent” comprises illicit opium cultivation areas in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. During the past several decades, the area has witnessed intense warfare, destruction, political upheavals, rise and fall of deadly terror groups, and massive production of opium and heroin.
These triangles and crescents conceal a grim shady world of strategies, conspiracies and betrayals. It is a murky world of drug trade, infested with druglords of all shades, intelligence agencies and their shady operatives, saboteurs, money launderers, Hawala agents, counterfeiters, religious fundamentalists, arms traffickers and human traffickers. 63 countries around the world are actively engaged in combating the illicit drug trade involving curbing the production of illicit drugs, interdicting drug shipments, tackling illicit finance, and reducing drug demand. Various platforms, including social media tools, secondhand trading platforms and game websites are used in the illegal drug trade and payments are in virtual and gaming currencies.
Dr G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics), is former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, & Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India.