One Million Dead From Afghan Heroin

By McCarton Ackerman 04/03/13

The staggering rise of opium production in Afghanistan has massive global repercussions.

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Afghanistan's poppy problem is growing.
Photo via

Since NATO began its "War on Terror" in 2001, heroin production in Afghanistan has increased 40 times and an estimated 1 million people have died as a result. Speaking last month in Vienna at the annual UN session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, said that the drug remains the primary factor of instability in the country. "Afghan heroin has killed more than 1 million people worldwide since the ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ began and over a trillion dollars has been invested into transnational organized crime from drug sales,” said Ivanov, "Any impartial observer must admit the sad fact that the international community has failed to curb heroin production in Afghanistan since the start of NATO’s operation.” The Taliban had implemented a ban on poppy growing shortly before US and NATO forces invaded the country, declaring it to be anti-Islam, but Afghanistan now produces 90% of the world's opium and the bulk of it ends up on European streets. The UN reported last year that 15% of Afghanistan’s GNP, $2.4 billion each year, depends on drug-related exports. In addition, 157,000 hectares are being planted with poppies in Afghanistan this spring, up 3,000 from last year.

Ivanov said the country faces a Catch-22 because the local population is dependent on cultivating opium poppies, but sales to foreign markets are also fueling the Taliban insurgency. "We can intercept and seize tons of narcotics, we can make arrests of traffickers, but we really need to choke off the funds that supply this,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. However, the US and Russia are divided on how to approach the issue. The US appears reluctant to get rid of all Afghan poppy fields, while Russia is urging total eradication. "Instead of destroying the machine-gun nest, they suggest catching bullets flying from the machine-gun. We suggest eradicating the narcotic plants altogether. As long as there are opium poppy fields, there will be trafficking," said Ivanov. "The US together with the Colombian government eradicates 200,000 hectares of coca bushes a year. In Afghanistan, only 2,000 hectares of poppy fields are being eradicated—one 100th of that amount."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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