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The heroin stampede

| Monday, June 2, 2003

As U.S. drug-eradication efforts in 2001 shifted to Colombian coca, that country's opium poppies flourished. So, too, did the U.S. heroin market. Today there's not a city east of the Mississippi that hasn't borne the consequences.

Heroin use has skyrocketed; the trail of death has grown longer. There are more than a million U.S. addicts, excluding occasional users who haven't gotten hooked -- yet. And by conservative projections, 60 percent of the market is controlled by Colombian traffickers.

Worse still, the purity of today's street "horse" is far more potent than years ago. At the same time, prices have dropped by almost 20 percent in the past five years.

The result has been devastating, both in treatment and in lives lost. And that's a cost shouldered by all.

Yet despite warnings from U.S. and Colombian law-enforcement officials, missions against that country's poppy fields were slashed -- by 80 percent in 2001 -- in favor of striking Colombia coca and the cocaine cartels.

This should never have been an either-or proposition, and for painfully obvious reasons. To target the source of one illegal drug assures only that the other will flourish -- as it did.

Nor is it acceptable that during this era of supposedly tightened security, up to 18 metric tons of heroin still find their way to U.S. addicts each year.

Some war on drugs.

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