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Meth, opium production drops

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

The U.S. war on drugs has succeeded in curbing methamphetamine production in the United States and opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the United Nations said in a report released yesterday.

But new challenges emerged as meth production found a new home in Mexico and the opium business shifted farther south in Afghanistan.

Antonio Maria Costa, director-general of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released the group's "2006 World Drug Report" in Washington. For the first time, U.S. government officials participated because of their interest in drug problems in Afghanistan and Latin America.

The report said U.S. authorities continued to lead the world in shutting down meth laboratories, seizing 17,199 such labs in 2004, the last year for which figures were released.

However, many "super labs," capable of manufacturing more than 11 pounds of meth a day, have moved south of the border. Mexicans told UNODC that 99 percent of local production in 2004 was intended for sale to the United States, the report said.

Karen Tandy, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that "roughly 80 percent of the methamphetamine used in the United States comes from these larger labs, which are increasingly found in Mexico."

"These same Mexican criminal organizations control most midlevel and retail methamphetamine distribution in the Pacific, Southwest, and west-central regions of the United States, as well as much of the distribution in the Great Lakes and Southeast regions," Mrs. Tandy said.

The U.N. report said meth seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border almost doubled from 2002 to 2004, confirming this trend.

"For the first time, the DEA and Mexico are trading personnel, sharing information, and we are even training about 1,000 Mexican special police and giving them equipment to hit hot spots in Mexico," Mrs. Tandy said yesterday.

Regarding another of the report's main findings, Mr. Costa commended U.S. efforts to contain and eliminate opium cultivation in Afghanistan, which resulted in a 21 percent decrease in 2005, marking the first reduction since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

"This is because there are courts now in Afghanistan and President [Hamid] Karzai has shown outstanding leadership. We are giving planters new economic prospects. Afghans want a future, and they realize that the Taliban and drug lords stand in the way of that," said John P. Walters, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Mr. Costa noted that the overall decrease does not take into account regional differences. For example, cultivation dropped from 69,715 acres to 2,700 acres in the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, while cultivation increased to 32,096 acres from 12,254 acres in the southern province of Kandahar.

Although the 2006 numbers have not been released, the report indicated an increase in opium-poppy planting, especially in southern regions.