David Frum

04.15.13

Afghanistan: An Opium Grower's Paradise

As Afghanistan becomes more and more unstable, it has once again become a haven for opium poppy growers. Opium, used to produce heroin, is a huge money maker, especially in the southern portion of Afghanistan. The reason for this growth in the south is that it no longer has a strong U.S. presence. It is now a Taliban stronghold.

In the past number of years, cultivation has increased from 131,000 hectares in 2011 to 154,000 hectares in 2012. According to a report published by the United Nations, the 2013 figures will be larger than that of 2012.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient in heroin, and last year provided about 75 per cent of the global crop—a figure that may jump to 90 percent this year due to increased cultivation.

Crop sales mostly fund local power brokers and criminal gangs in Afghanistan and to a lesser degree the Taliban, Western experts believe. This makes it difficult for the Afghan government to establish control in areas where the economy is driven by black-market opium sales, despite a small but effective counternarcotics force.

“As we have predicted, opium will go up for a third year in a row,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, which prepared the report along with the Afghan Counterarcotics Ministry. “We are looking at a record high cultivation.”

While heroin use in the United States is nowhere near its 1980s levels, it is on the rise among suburban teenagers. With the sharp increase in recreational use of prescription pain killers such as Oxycodone, it should come at no surprise that there is a surge in heroin use. With an expansion in poppy cultivation comes an increase in supply in our backyards.