Barry McCaffrey's Opium Report

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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…

NEXT: Divestment? Are You Kidding?

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  1. Let me grab a pin…

  2. I suddenly have a vision of what the actual economic driver will be for colonizing space. Huh, who woulda thunk it?

  3. Heh. A new use for all that hydroponics research that’s been done “in the industry”…

  4. Looks like he yanked the 48% from the State Dept, but without the context (via the Corner):

    “According to U.S. Government figures, there was a 48 percent decrease in poppy cultivation in 2005, down from record figures in 2004. However, due to favorable climate conditions, yield per hectare was up?resulting in only a 10 percent decrease in opium production. While we welcomed this decrease in 2005, early indications show that planting has significantly increased in 2006. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime?s (UNODC?s) Rapid Assessment Survey released in February 2006, poppy planting for the current growing season increased in 13 provinces, remained stable in 15, and decreased in only three.”

  5. Personally, I welcome this significant improvement. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to declare victory and go home. 😉

  6. Does anybody know if opium cultivation was allowed in Taliban Afghanistan? Or if not were they able to control it?

  7. Stoney,

    Oh of course they were able to control it. Wiped it out completely. Yes sir, not one poppy bloomed when the Taliban was in charge. That’s why W wrote them a check and sent them $10,000,000 of our hard-earned. I mean you don’t think we’d throw away big heaps of cash funding terrorists and fighting the War On Drugs unless we got results do ya? oh wait.

  8. I’ll grab the glass with the upside down label…

  9. Warren-

    Actually, the Taliban were pretty good at cracking down on opium production…when they wanted to. As The Economist has explained it, the Taliban allowed opium production for a while and built up stockpiles. After this had gone on for a while, they started cracking down. This did 3 things:

    1) It earned them some international good will and aid.

    2) It drove the price through the ceiling for their stockpile.

    3) The crackdown was a way of making sure that nobody else had any money.

  10. I suddenly have a vision of what the actual economic driver will be for colonizing space.

    PL, nice idea, but we’re waaaaaaaay ahead of you. Hmmmmm, Martian Green. And Lunie Ludes.

  11. What this thread shows precisely is that Barry McCaffrey is a lying sack of shit who is one more discredit to the Marine Corps.

  12. Jacob, it’s clear from your post that you WANT heroin production to go up. That is, that you WANT heroin to be MORE available to US citizens. This is all reminiscent of your writings on tobacco, where you’ve already admitted you received money from the industry. Are you receiving any money under the table from the heroin industry? Have you ever known anyone who’s been addicted to heroin? Do you really think their lives are in order and what you’d call healthy? (As a smoker, I realize you have a different definition of “healthy,” but still.) Put all your cards on the table.

  13. Whoa, Buzz, I’m totally, you know, buzzed. Space really is the final frontier.

    Oh, and Mr. Drug Czar, we’ve got asteroids. Mess with us, and we’ll drop one on your ass. Yeah.

  14. Jacob, it’s clear from your post that you WANT heroin production to go up. That is, that you WANT heroin to be MORE available to US citizens.

    Damn straight. More heroin means cheaper heroin, means less people stealing money to get heroin.

  15. Ruthless,

    Mr McCaffrey came to Iraq to visit some of the Iraqi special police that I was training. I didn’t know much about him, so I asked some of my peers.

    In a non libertarian (much more hawkish right wing type) environment the general consensus was that he had to be an idiot for being the Drug Czar. Or that he just wanted an easy job knowing that he would have no impact on whether or not people were going to take drugs.

  16. “Jacob, it’s clear from your post that you WANT heroin production to go up. That is, that you WANT heroin to be MORE available to US citizens.”

    When does driving the price up help the situation ever?

  17. kwais,
    Rufus doesn’t care about the price. He just wants heroin to not be available.
    And I want to be 18 again.

  18. I never liked that guy.

  19. What this thread shows precisely is that Barry McCaffrey is a lying sack of shit who is one more discredit to the Marine Corps.

    Ruthless, Barry McCaffrey is an Army General.

    The honor of the Corps is safe for now, from him, at least.

  20. I’m under the impression that, during the time when the Taliban was cracking down on opium production, our allies the Northern Alliance were making up some of the difference 🙂

  21. Isaac Bartram,
    Thanks for setting me straight.
    You have made my day!

  22. I love all these numbers they pull out of their asses all the time. Then they casually forget to mention all the other numbers that discredit the number they gave originally. This of course is assuming you believe ANY of the numbers they give about anything.

    I still have a crisp $100 bill waiting to be won by anyone that can tell me what 42% of the number I have written on my desk amounts to. Good Luck.

    The people that think the WoD is working are fools and those that think if drugs were legalized it would create a bunch of all new drug addicts since people would have easier access to the drugs if legal. I contend that anyone who wants drugs today has no problem getting them as it is. So if people who want to use a drug can get the drug illegally already will there be much difference in them getting it legally? People don’t stay away from drugs simply because they are illegal I think that is rather obvious. To think that all of a sudden we would have a rash of new users is ridiculous since anyone who wants to use drugs can do so now anyway.

    Ask just about any kid what is harder for them to get alcohol or drugs and I would bet most all say alcohol. I am curious what drugs they give our politicians because they come up with the most fucked up ideas of anyone. Another drunk Kennedy, SHOCKER!!!

    Anyone here from the Northeast that can explain to me why your states continue to elect drunken law evading people simply because their name is Kennedy? I know we all seem to elect these fools reguardless of their name but damn ENOUGH with the Kennedy clan already certainly you have at least a replacement drunk you can elect in his place. Any drunk Irishman should fill the position with as much intelligence and moral highground as Teddy or his Son or his nephew.

  23. Dar – “I contend that anyone who wants drugs today has no problem getting them as it is.

    This is demonstrably false. Where’s the acid?

    The annual NSDUH may provide a clue here. Unfortunately, they don’t ask if you want to do a drug but can’t get it. But they do ask about drug use history, drug risk perceptions and availability. Some tentative conclusions can be made from those.

    Of those who think that smoking pot once or twice a week carries no or slight risk, and have never tried pot, nearly half find pot fairly or more difficult to get. Of course, pot’s the most popular, so the availability is not that dampened.

    Of those who think that trying acid once or twice carries no or slight risk, and have never tried acid, 80% find it fairly or more difficult to get.

    Of those who think that doing coke once a month carries no or slight risk, and have never tried coke, 70% find it fairly or more difficult to get. Among those think that doing coke once/twice a week carries no or slight risk, 79%.

    Of those who think that trying heroin once or twice carries no or slight risk, and have never tried heroin, nearly 85% find it fairly or more difficult to get.

    Of course, I have ignored those who have tried these drugs and don’t continue use because of availability/price/legal-or-other-risk-perception.

    This also ignores the evolving dynamics of easy availability. One of the reasons why drug war propaganda does keep even experimentation low for most non-pot drugs is because empirical access is not broad i.e. one may stop believing in ‘reefer madness’ in college because every other Joe is smoking some bud, and it’s easy for all but the stubborn to see that it’s no big deal. But heroin’s risk perceptions (including those of “instant addiction”) are maintained by the lack of easy empirical secondhand access (due to low availability, high price, and the risk perception itself ..etc). To think that the situation will remain the same after legalization is naive.

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