03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Opium Production Now More Than Half Afghanistan's GDP

As America's focus in the Middle East shifts towards emerging crises in Iran and Pakistan, the economy of Afghanistan — the U.S.'s initial foreign policy undertaking in the region — continues to crumble.

Opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan has increased by 29 percent since 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on Friday.

More than half (53 percent) of Afghanistan's GDP is now based on drugs as the former Taliban-ruled country is producing 660-plus tons of heroin and morphine — both derivatives of opium — per year.

"Time is not on our side. Either we sow the seeds of security and development now, or the Taliban will reap its deadly harvest in the future," warned Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UNODC. "The potential windfall for criminals, insurgents and terrorists is staggering and runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars."

According to the UNODC, the total export value of Afghanistan's opium has skyrocketed to approximately $4 billion. The flooding of the product on the market has caused the wholesale price of heroin to plummet. According to the report, a gram of the drug is now worth $2.50 in Afghanistan and $3.50 in Pakistan and Iran as heroin labs have "proliferated" along trafficking routes.

The findings, according to the UNODC, underscore the need for greater intelligence sharing between Afghanistan and its neighbors as well as more direct aid and assistance to Kabul. Despite banning opium when in power, the Taliban has been using profits from the drug to buy weapons and pay militia salaries.