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8. What Can Be Done? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alfred Mccoy   
Saturday, 02 January 2010 00:00

8. What Can Be Done?

DECISIVE ACTION must be taken to end America's heroin plague.

The half-hearted half measures of the last twenty-five years have done nothing to stop the rapid spread of heroin addiction and have brought the United States to the brink of a drug disaster. In 1946 there were an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts: in the entire United States. Through the diligent efforts of organized crime, the number of addicts mounted year after year, reaching a new high of 150,000 in 1965. (1) Since 1965 there has been an unprecedented increase in addiction; statistical experts at the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics now believe that there are 560,000 hard-core heroin addicts in the United States.(2)

There is almost no town, city, race, social class, or occupational group in the United States untouched by the heroin problem. Black urban ghettos have been the major target of heroin pushers since the 1920s, but the addict population in suburban communities is growing rapidly, and the day is not far off when every large high school in America will have its own pushers. (3) Instead of taking a coffee break, a growing percentage of America's assembly line workers are slipping off to the men's room for a heroin fiX.(4) In June 1971 one medical researcher reported that 6.5 percent of fifty thousand workers tested in the previous two years were heroin addicts. (5) In Vietnam, and on U.S. army bases around the globe, the GI junkie is becoming as much a part of army life as the beerguzzling master sergeant and the martini-sipping captain.

Although heroin addicts are outnumbered by alcoholics, heroin addiction has been much more damaging to the fabric of American society. Alcoholism is usually a private problem, and the anguish extends no further than the victim, his family, and his friends. Alcohol is relatively cheap, and even the most down-and-out wino can manage to keep himself supplied. Heroin, however, is extremely expensive, and most addicts have been forced to turn to street crime for money to maintain their habits. One 1970 survey estimated that the average addict in New York State had to steal $8,000 a year for his habit, and calculated the total property lost to junkies at $580 million a year. (6) Many urban police departments believe that the majority of petty crimes, such as mugging, shoplifting, and burglary are committed by addicts in search of money. Predatory addicts have turned large sections of America's inner cities into hazardous jungles, where only well-armed police dare to venture after dark. To a large extent, the problem of crime in the streets is a heroin problem, and most of the petty violence that has aroused so much public apprehension would disappear overnight if the drug traffic were brought under control.

Obviously, something must be done, and done quickly, to deal with the heroin problem. Any attempt to eliminate the drug traffic will probably have to use one of three strategies: (1) cure the individual addicts; (2) smash international and domestic narcotics syndicates; or (3) eliminate illicit opium production. Since it is extremely difficult to cure individual addicts without solving the larger social problems and almost impossible to crush the criminal syndicates, the only realistic solution is to eradicate illicit opium production.

Cure the Individual Addict

While small groups of serious heroin addicts can be rehabilitated, there are no known solutions for curing the hundreds of thousands of troubled individuals who make up America's addict population. Every addict has his own complex, psychological motivations for using heroin, and he can only be considered "cured" when these problems have been solved. In most cases, rehabilitation is a slow, difficult process requiring hundreds of hours of individual attention by committed, trained caseworkers. Even if money were forthcoming tomorrow to build the thousands of necessary treatment centers and training institutes, it would be years before results would begin to show. And in any case, such a crash program would probably be doomed to failure. As long as heroin is readily available on the streets, the addict population will continue to multiply at a dizzying rate, and new addicts will become hooked faster than the old addicts can be unhooked.

A number of reformers have suggested that the entire problem could be solved if heroin maintenance programs were set up on a nationwide basis to provide heroin at cost to any addict who wanted it. It has been argued that this program will eliminate the profit motive, thereby reducing the amount of heroin-related street crime and destroying international narcotics syndicates. Although a comprehensive heroin maintenance program might well achieve these goals, it would not solve one fundamental problemheroin addiction. The number of addicts would remain constant, or actually continue to increase. Advocates of heroin maintenance point to Great Britain's success in using distribution clinics to stabilize its addict population at 2,000 to 3,000 regular users.(7) Proponents of this approach argue that the program would be equally successful in the United States. However, there is one important difference between the two countriesGreat Britain started its maintenance program well before the heroin problem reached serious proportions. The United States already has an enormous drug epidemic. While the British find an addict population of 2,000 to 3,000 adults acceptable, it is doubtful that the American people are equally willing to tolerate the permanent presence of between 500,000 to 600,000 addicts, many of them teenagers. The British maintenance program is a preventive solution, but the United States is already seriously infected with the disease.

Perhaps if the root causes of drug addiction-racism, poverty, meaningless jobs, alienation of youth-were dealt with effectively, the heroin problem might disappear. But these are all enormously complex problems that will take generations to solve under the best of conditions. As long as these basic social problems exist, there will be thousands of potential addicts; and as long as heroin is available, criminal syndicates will continue to find the United States a lucrative market for narcotics.

Destroy the Narcotics Syndicates

There is little reason to hope that the United States will ever be able to destroy the criminal syndicates responsible for manufacturing, importing, and distributing America's heroin supply. For over forty years state and federal law enforcement agencies have been "cracking down" on organized crime. Occasionally a major mafioso like Lucky Luciano or Vito Genovese is imprisoned, but the basic structure of organized crime has never been imperiled. After at least three major U.S. Senate investigations, dozens of "hard-hitting" district attorneys, hundreds of Grand Jury inquiries, and an endless parade of media exposes, organized crime is stronger than ever. The Mafia is even investing its narcotics and gambling profits in legitimate corporate enterprises. Most Mafia bosses are respected members of their local communities and are protected by corrupt state and local officials.

Even if the leaders of organized crime were forced to stop financing and distributing bulk heroin shipments, they would be replaced by younger, more aggressive criminal gangs. Mafia bosses played a key role in reorganizing the international traffic after World War II, but now that the links between the United States and Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle are well established, their retirement would have relatively little impact on the narcotics traffic.

Since selling heroin inside the United States is one of the most profitable businesses in the world, it is almost impossible to break up the domestic distribution network of middle-level distributors, retailers, and street pushers. Most of the distributors in the lower echelons are addicts who have to support their own habits, and no amount of police pressure is going to eliminate them. With the enormous profits from heroin, retailers and pushers have been able to buy ironclad police protection. Most state and local narcotics police are rotten with corruption, and many police officers are actively engaged in pushing heroin when they are on the job. (8)

Corsican and chiu chau syndicates are just as immune to prosecution. The Corsican syndicates in France are protected by the highest echelons of the government, and their fraternal organizations in Saigon and Vientiane enjoy close working relationships with high-ranking government officials. Hong Kong authorities have admitted their inability to deal with the colony's heroin problem, and corruption is so rampant that there is little possibility of any immediate crackdown on manufacturers and exporters. In Southeast Asia the chiu chau syndicates operate with the full knowledge and protection of host governments; not even the names of the powerful syndicate leaders are known to international law enforcement agencies. Since government leaders in Thailand, Laos, and South Vietnam are heavily implicated in the narcotics traffic, it is a bit unrealistic to expect that they will make any serious efforts to attack the heroin traffic.

Eliminate illicit Opium Production

In his June 1971 statement to Congress on the drug crisis, President Nixon said, "It is clear that the only really effective way to end heroin production is to end opium production and the growing of poppies." (9) Of all the possible solutions to the problem, this is the only one with any chance of success. And in many ways it is an ideal solution. While clandestine heroin production is hidden by impenetrable layers of corruption and secrecy, illicit poppy production is relatively easy to detect. Opium farmers make no attempt to conceal their crops, and the location of poppy fields is usually known to local government officials. (Even if the farmers did try to hide their fields, the brightly colored poppy flowers stand out clearly in high-altitude aerial photographs.) Heroin chemists are constantly changing the location of their laboratories, but opium farmers usually work the same fields for up to twenty years.

Moreover, the opium farmer is the only person in the chain of processing, smuggling, and distribution who does not share in the enormous profits. A kilo of heroin that sells for $225,000 on the streets of New York City is refined from only $500 worth of opium. While heroin traffickers reap enormous rewards from only a few hours of work, the struggling opium farmers are paid very little for the hundreds of hours of backbreaking labor they devote to cultivating and harvesting raw opium. Opium farmers could be bought off at a price we can well afford to pay. If the United States were willing to pay farmers the going price of $50 a kilo not to grow opium, Southeast Asia's entire annual harvest of one thousand tons (70 percent of the world's total illicit opium supply) could be eliminated for only $50 million. Considering that addicts in New York City steal approximately $580 million annually to maintain their habits, we can hardly afford not to take advantage of this bargain.

Once the opium farmers are pensioned off, illicit opium production will disappear, heroin laboratories will close for want of raw materials, and America's pushers will gradually be forced out of business. Methadone centers and treatment clinics could be opened to detoxify the remaining addicts, and within a few years the heroin problem would become little more than a painful memory.(10)

Unfortunately, it is not going to be that easy to pay off the opium farmers. Although the farmers themselves may be happy to participate in such a profitable opium eradication program, their governments do not share this enthusiasm. For political leaders in Thailand, Laos and South Vietnam the opium traffic is a lucrative source of income, and they would hardly welcome a serious antinarcotics campaign that tried to eliminate poppy production or drive the syndicates out of business. In a classified report dated February 21, 1972, an interagency investigative committee with high-level representatives from both the CIA and the State Department reported that "there is no prospect" of curbing the heroin traffic in Southeast Asia "under any conditions that can realistically be projected." The committee explained that "the most basic problem, and the one that unfortunately appears least likely of any early solution, is the corruption, collusion and indifference at some places in some governments, particularly Thailand and South Vietnam, that precludes more effective suppression of traffic by the governments on whose territory it takes place. (11) Thus, a number of serious political problems would have to be resolved before such a program could be put into action.

The Thai government is heavily implicated in the opium traffic. Every important trafficker in Thailand has an "adviser" in the narcotics police, and most would never think of moving a major drug shipment without first checking with the police to make sure that there is no possibility of seizure or arrest. U.S. narcotics agents serving in Thailand have learned that any information they give the Thai police force is turned over to the syndicates within a matter of hours. Moreover, officials in the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics feel that corruption is not just a matter of individual wrongdoing, and claim to have evidence that indicates that corruption goes to the very top of Thailand's current military government.

In South Vietnam almost every powerful political leader is somewhat implicated in the sale of heroin to American soldiers, and many are working closely with Corsican syndicates to ship large quantities of narcotics to the United States and Europe.

The Laotian elite are actively involved in the manufacture and export of heroin, and resident Corsican smugglers are treated like honored foreign dignitaries.

While the Burmese government has almost no control over the Shan States' opium traffic, the Thai and Laotian governments are in a position to prevent Burmese opium from reaching the international markets. By simply sealing off their frontiers and denying the KMT and Shan caravans access to their northern borderlands, the Thai and Laotian governments could cut most of Burma's opium exports. Once the Shan rebels and bandits, who finance their military operations from the traffic, are forced out of business, some semblance of order would return to the Shan States, and the Burmese government could begin the task of eradicating poppy cultivation.

Obviously, the Thai, Laotian, and Vietnamese governments are not going to get out of the narcotics traffic of their own free will. It is going to require enormous political pressure from the United States before these governments will agree to purge all of their corrupt officials involved in the narcotics trade and begin to take positive steps to elimina e the production, processing, and export of opiates.

1972: The Year of Decision

Once it is admitted that it will require enormous diplomatic pressure to force the governments of Thailand, Laos, and South Vietnam out of the opium business, the question arises, what is the best way to apply pressure? The Nixon administration claims that it is using the full range o America's political and economic influence, the socalled other means of persuasion, to force Southeast Asian governments to quit the traffic. (12) Unfortunately, there is not the slightest shred of evidence to indicate that there has been any substantial American pressure on these governments to clean up the traffic. Most American officials serving in Southeast Asia are not particularly interested in using their personal power or influence to do anything about the drug traffic. They are there to earn money, kill Communists, or climb a few notches higher on some bureaucratic ladder. Their response to the drug problem has ranged from apathy to embarrassment. Moreover, a number of American officials and agencies are guilty of various levels of complicity in the narcotics traffic: at the lower level, most American officials have made no effort to stem the drug traffic even when they have had the opportunity; American embassies in Vientiane and Saigon glossed over reports of the involvement of high-level traffickers; and finally, the CIA's charter airline, Air America, has been involved in the transport of opium and heroin. Many of the government leaders who have become the cornerstone of American prestige and influence in Indochina are the very people who would have to be purged in an effective antinarcotics drive. In short, the American presence in Southeast Asia is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem.

If America's lavish foreign aid and military assistance programs cannot be used positively to force the governments of Laos, Thailand, and South Vietnam to get out of the opium business, then logic would seem to dictate that an immediate cessation of foreign aid might bring about the desired results. While U.S. bureaucrats, secret agents, and military officers serving in Southeast Asia are indifferent to the will of the people, Congress is extremely sensitive to popular pressure and has the constitutional and legal authority to cut off foreign aid to these countries. A cutoff in foreign aid and military assistance might finally convince these governments that the United States is really serious about ending the heroin traffic.

To be thoroughly effective, the cessation of foreign aid should continue for four or five years, until there is clear-cut evidence that the narcotics traffic has been completely eradicated in each of these three countries. The aid money could be divided between drug treatment programs in the United States and international law enforcement efforts. Some of the money might be turned over to the United Nations to finance special opium eradication programs or law enforcement campaigns in Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Rather than letting biased American agencies determine when the traffic has been eliminated and aid payments should be resumed, the United States should rely on the judgment of a more neutral international observer such as the U.N.'s Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

There is every reason to believe that 1972 is shaping up as the year of decision for the international narcotics traffic. This is the year when American voters will make their decision on the political future of Indochina. If President Nixon is reelected he will probably continue his policy of giving unqualified support to President Thieu's administration in South Vietnam and to the right-wing governments in Thailand and Laos. As long as there is no serious threat of a cutoff in foreign aid or a withdrawal of political support, these governments cannot be subjected to any serious pressure and the narcotics traffic will continue unabated. In late 1972 the Turkish government's opium eradication program will eliminate that nation's last poppy fields, and the international narcotics syndicates will have to complete their shift to Southeast Asia. (13)Although much of America's heroin supply has been coming from the Golden Triangle region since the late 1960s, the great majority of it will start coming from Southeast Asia by late 1972 or early 1973.

Thus, through a curious historical coincidence, 1972 is a turning point for both the international heroin traffic and the corrupt governments of Southeast Asia; 1972 will probably be remembered as a crossroads in the history of America's war on narcotics. If aid is cut off and money made available through the United Nations for a systematic opium suppression campaign, then these governments might begin to change their tolerant attitudes toward the heroin traffic. If not, the Golden Triangle is capable of supplying an almost unlimited amount of opium, and America will have to endure the curse of heroin for another generation. Admittedly, an immediate, long-term cessation of military and economic aid to Laos, Thailand, and South Vietnam will probably weaken America's political influence in the region and bring neutralist or Communist governments to power. Indeed, in the final analysis the American people will have to choose between supporting doggedly anti-Communist governments in Southeast Asia or getting heroin out of their high schools.

8 What Can Be Done?

1. In 1965 there were 57,199 known addicts. Using standard conversion ratios for years past, this yields an estimated addict population of 150,000. (Bureau of Narcotics, U.S. Treasury Department, Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs for the Year Ending Dec-ember 31, 1965 [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966], p. 45.)

2. Statement of John E. Ingersoll, Director, U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, U.S. Department of Justice, before the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, New York City, February 24, 1972, p. 5.

3. In May 1970 one research organization reported: "Until recently, middle-class drug users almost always stayed away from heroin. In the last year there has been a sizeable increase in various parts of the country in the number of middle-class drug users who are willing to try heroin. . . . It is reasonable to expect that within a few years in any community of heavy drug users a noticeable percent will try heroin, and some smaller percent will become addicted." (Max Singer, Project Leader, Policy Concerning Drug Abuse in New York State [Croton-onHudson, N.Y.: Hudson Institute, May 31, 1970] 1, 27.)

4. The New York Times, June 11, 1971, p. 1.

5. ]bid., July 23, 1971, p. 1.

6. Singer, Policy Concerning Drug Abuse in New York State, p. 61. One Congressional study group estimated that the national total for property stolen by heroin addicts was $7.5 million a day, or $2.7 billion a year. (Morgan F. Murphy and Robert H. Steele, The World Heroin Problem, 92nd Cong., Ist sess. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, May 1971], erratum sheet p. 4.)

7. In 1969 the British government reported to the U.N. that there were 2,782 known addicts during the year 1968. Reliable sources in Great Britain feel that there may be as many as twice that number of practicing addicts who maintain their habits buying from registered addicts or regular pushers. (Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, "Report to the United Nations," mimeographed [London, 1969], p. 5.)

8. Whitman Knapp, Chairman, Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption, "Interim Report on Investigative Phase," Xeroxed (New York; July 1971 ), p. 4; The New York Times, October 28, 197 1, p. 1. In 1968, thirty-two agents of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics were forced to resign after a Justice Department investigation showed that they were selling confiscated heroin and accepting bribes from known traffickers (ibid., December 14, 1968, p. 1).

9. The New York Times, June 18, 1971.

10. Before the eradication of illicit opium production can become completely effective, illicit poppy fields in Afghanistan and Pakistan would have to be eliminated. Together these two nations account for about 24 percent of the world's illicit opium production. Although only small quantities of South Asian opium get beyond local markets, it is quite possible that Afghanistan and Pakistan might become America's major source of opiates if production in Southeast Asia were eradicated. There is also a possibility that opium might be diverted from legal Iranian and Indian production to supply American markets once Southeast Asia's illicit production is eliminated. In this case, it would probably be wise to urge these governments to eliminate legal opium production (Murphy and Steele, The World Heroin Problem, p. 17; The New York Times, July 1, 1971, p. 1).

Once legal production in India and Iran is abolished, the international pharmaceutical industry will have to find an alternate source of opium for the production of medical morphine, one of the best pain killers known to modern medicine. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China have been able to produce opium for medical purposes without significant diversion, and they could become an alternate source of supply. Also, the Tasmanian state government in Australia has introduced large-scale mechanized poppy cultivation with fairly strict controls, and is currently supplying several British pharmaceutical firms (see The Nation [Australia], April 6, 1963, p. 12; A. G. Allen and B. D. Frappell, "The Production of Oil Poppies," Tasmania Journal of Agriculture, May 1970, pp. 89-94).

11. The New York Times, July 24, 1972, p. 1.

12. Newsweek, July 19, 1971, pp. 23-24.

13. The New York Times, July 1. 1971, p. 1.


Last Updated on Saturday, 01 January 2011 23:49

Our valuable member Alfred Mccoy has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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