Pubdate: Sun, 24 Mar 2002
Source: Scotland On Sunday (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
Author: Brian Brady
Bookmark: (Heroin)


A FLOOD of cheap heroin is heading for the streets of Scotland because of a 
massive increase in opium production in Afghanistan since the Taliban were 

United Nations experts have put European cities on full-scale alert after 
they discovered that farmers in the country are threatening to reclaim 
their position as the world's biggest producers of illicit heroin.

Farmers are preparing to reap up to 2,700 tonnes of opium, producing some 
250 tonnes of pure heroin, in the next few months. The bumper harvest is 14 
times bigger than the amount grown in the country last year, when 
production was outlawed as 'un-Islamic' by the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

Officials at the UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) give international drugs 
agencies just a matter of weeks to stop the deadly harvest reaching 
lucrative European markets, along the well-trodden 'opium trail' from 
Afghanistan's poppy fields through central Asia and the Balkans.

Tony Blair and other world leaders, who pledged to stamp out Afghanistan's 
opium trade, are now faced with a difficult decision: whether to destroy 
the crops and alienate thousands of Afghan farmers who are depending on the 
crop for their living; or spend up to UKP300m buying the entire poppy 
harvest off them.

Anti-drugs campaigners in Scotland warned that if any of the opium was 
allowed into Europe, it could force down prices and lure a new generation 
of people into the clutches of dealers.

Drugs already claim almost 300 lives in Scotland every year, with heroin by 
far the biggest killer.

Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said: "The lines of 
communication between Scotland and Afghanistan have been disrupted so 
dealers have been going elsewhere.

"The big concern now is that if they reopen markets that had been shut down 
the price will fall and the number of users will increase.

"We have 55,800 problematic heroin users in Scotland and we don't want to 
see that number increase - particularly when statistics suggest that drug 
use in this country is falling."

The Taliban's hardline position on heroin and the turmoil that came in the 
wake of their defeat has led to a heroin shortage in Scotland in recent 
months, sparking a crime-wave among addicts desperate to fund their 
increasingly expensive habit.

The price of a standard bag of heroin has shot up from UKP10 to UKP25 - but 
now experts fear an over-supply could force the cost back below UKP10.

Police fear that dealers will use the cheap price of the drug to lure 
teenagers into trying it out.

An upsurge in heroin abuse only two years ago was blamed on the sudden 
arrival of cheap brown heroin on the streets of Scotland - and the trend 
for smoking the drug.

One senior police source said: "Pushers capitalised on the situation by 
targeting younger people and calling the drug 'brown sugar', rather than 
heroin, so it seemed harmless.

"For some reason, people who didn't want to take heroin because it meant 
injecting it into their veins found it easy to smoke it. They could also 
get hold of it more cheaply.

Officers leading the campaign against drug abuse in Scotland last night 
attempted to play down the dangers, insisting it was too early to draw 
conclusions from the UN report.

Jim Orr, director of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "We 
monitor reports on the cultivation of opium as part of the intelligence 
picture to tackle this criminal activity.

"Along with other law enforcement partners we continue to assess 
developments in Afghanistan and will take appropriate action as necessary."

But former drugs tsar Keith Hellawell - now the Government's expert on the 
international drugs trade - warned that the UN survey left only a short 
window of opportunity to stop a surge in heroin supply.

He said: "We have got to look at every possibility we have of preventing 
that crop from getting into the wrong hands and into a drug that is going 
to damage the health of our children."

The UNDCP report covered 208 villages in the main opium-growing areas of 
Afghanistan. The survey team declared: "Our opium poppy pre-assessment 
survey confirms earlier indications that - after the effective 
implementation of the Taliban ban in 2001 - the drug cultivation in the 
country has resumed at relatively high levels.

"The estimated production in 2002 might reach between 1,900 and 2,700 
metric tonnes, which is less than in a record year of 1999, but close to 
the still high levels of mid-1990s. That requires a strong and creative 

A total of 26,000 acres of poppy crop had now been planted.

The scale of the increase confounds the efforts of Afghani and 
international leaders to stamp out the deadly trade. The country has 
traditionally supplied 90% of Europe's heroin, and at least 70% of the 
global supply.

Tony Blair cited the destruction of the heroin trade as a key war aim when 
committing British support for the US strikes against al-Qaeda and the 
Taliban last autumn. Hamid Karzai, leader of the Afghan Interim 
Administration (AIA), bowed to international pressure and banned opium 
poppy cultivation in January.

But the AIA could not guarantee obedience in all areas of the country, and 
hundreds of farmers have since ripped up their wheat-fields and planted 
more lucrative valuable crops.

Eastwood Labour MP Jim Murphy claimed only a 'buy and destroy' policy would 
save Europe from the heightened risks.

He said: "Either we pay for crop substitution, helping the farmers grow 
different products, or we buy the opium from them. It is too late for crop 
substitution with this one because they are about to harvest it.

"The only effective way of doing it is a one-off purchase and an amnesty 
for the farmers who comply.

"Afghan drugs kill hundreds of Scots every year and the world community 
needs to do something about that."

Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane claimed the international community 
was helping the AIA to improve its capacity to take on drug barons. But he 
refused to confirm reports that a buy-up of the opium harvest was imminent.

MacShane added: "An important element of the international community's 
approach will be measures designed to break the dependence on poppy 
cultivation of many within Afghanistan.

"The Interim Administration has already introduced a ban on drugs 
production, processing and trafficking but it is too early to assess the 
impact on areas already under poppy cultivation."

Andrew Horne, operations manager of Turning Point Scotland, a charity which 
runs the Drug Crisis Centre in Glasgow, said: "It's a terrible thing to say 
but the status quo has its advantages.

"Any fluctuation at all in the level of heroin on the streets creates 
problems for treatment services and in terms of crime.

"When there is a bumper crop, the price of heroin falls and more people use 
the drug. They don't tend to come in for treatment because it's too easy to 
get the drug and it's cheap. If supply is very good then they stay out of 
treatment. They just think, 'why bother?' and that causes more people to 
use heroin."



IT STARTS life as a harmless-looking, floppy plant described as being "like 
a cabbage" by former drugs tsar Keith Hellawell, but by the time it has 
reached the housing estates of inner-city Scotland, opium is a lethal drug.

Most of Afghanistan's opium is grown on thousands of acres of poppy field 
in the north-eastern Helmand province of Kandahar. Once the poppies have 
flowered, the seed heads are harvested and converted into morphine base in 
local laboratories.

Most of it is then transported into Iran and on to the powerful drugs gangs 
in Turkey, where the thick, brown liquid is turned into pure heroin. 
Traffickers send the vast majority of the drug through the Balkans in 
container lorries, although some of it also passes through former Soviet 

Heroin for the British market usually enters the country via Channel ports, 
after passing through France, Germany and often Amsterdam. Scottish customs 
officials have identified centres including London, Manchester and 
Liverpool as key staging-posts for heroin on its way to Scotland. From 
there it is distributed to dealers who are mainly concentrated in cities 
such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
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