Barry McCaffrey's Opium Report


Over at The Corner, Rich Lowry quotes Barry McCaffrey's report on his recent trip to Aghanistan, in which the Clinton administration drug czar claims "opium production has been dramatically slashed by 48% just in the past year." I am automatically skeptical of such seemingly precise numbers about illicit industries; this one belongs in the same category as the share of the world's heroin supplied by Afghanistan (supposedly 87 percent last year) and the percentage of cocaine seized by anti-drug agencies before it reaches the U.S. (if they know how much else there is, why aren't they seizing that too?). Still, if opium production has been cut in half, that would be an impressive accomplishment, though not necessarily one welcomed by all the Afghans whose livelihoods depended on the opium trade.

But I wonder if McCaffrey is really talking about opium poppy acreage, which reportedly was reduced by a fifth between 2004 and 2005, with hardly any effect on production, because the yield per acre went up. Even a decrease in acreage seems doubtful. According to a U.N. report released in February, "The Opium Rapid Assessment Survey (ORAS) for 2006 shows an increasing trend in opium poppy cultivation in 13 provinces, a decreasing trend in three provinces and no change in 16 provinces as compared to the results of the Annual Opium Poppy Survey 2005."

Even if there has been a reduction in both poppy acreage and opium production in Afghanistan, of course, that does not necessarily translate into higher retail heroin prices or fewer users, which presumably is what the government is trying to accomplish. Drug crops have a way of moving from country to country in response to enforcement pressure, so Afghanistan's loss could be Burma's gain. Or Pakistan's. Or Thailand's. Or Mexico's. Or Colombia's. Or…