Pubdate: Sat, 27 Mar 2010
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: WK9
Copyright: 2010 The New York Times Company
Author: Peter B. Bensinger


To the Editor:

"Fearful of Alienating Afghans, U.S. Turns Blind Eye to Opium" (front
page, March 21) highlights the dilemma: should Afghan farmers grow
poppies or should poppy fields be eradicated, jeopardizing livelihoods
but eliminating the opium that destroys lives?

The United States faced a similar dilemma in the 1970s when Turkey was
the principal source of imported heroin via laboratories in Marseille
- -- the "French connection." Turkey limited cultivation and built a
factory to convert opium poppy heads into "poppy straw," convertible
into the legal medicines morphine and codeine. The Turkish government
outlawed growing of opium poppies in all but seven provinces that were
traditional growing areas.

The Turkish program worked. The poppy crop was bought not by the
traffickers, but by the government.

The Afghan and American governments should consider doing the same
thing in Afghanistan -- a factory to convert poppies into "poppy
straw," limiting cultivation to traditional growing areas and
prohibiting cultivation elsewhere using aerial eradication. This would
create a new industry serving medical needs and not the Taliban.

Heroin overdose deaths in the United States totaled about 2,000 in
1976; imports exceeded 6 tons. By 1980, heroin overdose deaths fell to
about 800 annually; imports were less than 2 tons. The Turkish poppy
straw program followed by comprehensive aerial poppy eradication in
Mexico by the Mexican government helped make this possible.

This approach could be tried in Afghanistan, but it will require
government stability, enforcement so poppies are grown only in the
approved areas, eradication of poppies in unlicensed areas and United
Nations support.

Peter B. Bensinger


The writer was administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
from 1976 to 1981. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake