ANKARA, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is ramping up its fight against drug trafficking, making its largest-ever heroin bust of 1.271 tons amid calls for a wider international cooperation against the global problem.
The massive amount of heroin was found hidden among animal fat inside the trailer of a truck at a checkpoint erected on the eastern Erzurum-Erzincan highway on Dec. 5.
The drug was supposed to be shipped to Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city located in the northwest of the country.
It is a pivotal point of the illegal drug trafficking sector of the region towards Europe, a main destination of the lethal product.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the press after the big bust that the country's struggle against drug smuggling was continuing.
He also said that the country is facing a great risk and should tighten even more the struggle against drug addiction and trafficking.
According to Soylu, in 2017, death toll from drug overdose in Turkey peaked to 1,020 people, compared to 520 deaths in 2016.
"In 2018 only, we carried out 134,088 operations. We captured nearly 80 tons of cannabis, 19.6 million Captagon (a type of amphetamine) pills and 7.8 million Ecstasy pills," Soylu said, adding that the amount of heroin captured in 2018 was 15.9 tons, excluding the recent massive heroin bust.
Soylu also criticized Western powers for failing to understand the links between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its role in the drug trade on the east-west axis.
The PKK was listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
Turkey is long warning European nations of the fact that the PKK is using the money obtained by drug smuggling to buy arms to attack Turkish targets.
Ankara claims that drug trafficking is providing substantial revenue for the PKK, particularly through marijuana cultivation in southeastern Turkey.
According to official data obtained by Xinhua, in the first ten months of 2018, six percent of the heroine seized in the world and 71 percent of the synthetic drugs seized in Europe have been captured by Turkish police forces.
The PKK has been earning around one billion U.S. dollars a year from the illegal drug trade since the early 1980, producing cannabis in Turkey and heroin in laboratories established in its camps in northern Iraq to sell them to Europe, according to government officials.
Turkey, a transit country for drug smuggling which also fights against drug use, especially among youth, has stepped up anti-narcotics efforts in recent years after it launched an action plan for the war on drugs four years ago.
However, drug consumption is on the rise in Turkey despite harsh legislation and government efforts, affecting especially the young urban generation for the last couple of years, a retired police officer told Xinhua.
"The police is effective in prevention of drug trafficking, but regarding dealing with drug use, there is still a lot to do," said the former officer.
According to health specialists, the minimum age of drug addiction in Turkey has dropped in the last decade to 12 or 13-year-old.
Meanwhile, Turkey authorities said that the number of rehabilitation centers for recovering addicts has increased.
With a focus on small-time dealers, the police formed new "narco teams," which operate around schools and other places where young people often hang out.