- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

The State Department has failed to meet its 2002 goal of eradicating more than 11,000 acres of Colombian opium poppy fields at a time when heroin from that South American country is flooding into cities all along the East Coast.
According to information sent by Colombian police officials to the House Committee on International Relations, only about 7,400 acres of Colombian opium poppy fields identified by authorities were eradicated last year continuing a steady decline in the U.S. program to cut Colombian poppy production.
Opium poppy-field eradication in Colombia in 2001 was down 80 percent from 2000.
"There is a direct link between opium production and the heroin in every city and town in the East Coast," said one official close to the program. "Police throughout the Northeast are finding Colombian heroin on every street corner and in every school, and overdose deaths have skyrocketed.
"If it hasn't reached your street or your neighborhood, it will and soon," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Law-enforcement authorities estimate that Colombian drug traffickers now account for between 56 percent and 67 percent of the heroin being used on the East Coast. Its purity ranges from 80 percent to the mid-90s, allowing dealers to "cut" it several times, meaning that adulterants such as aspirin and Dramamine are added to decrease the cost and increase the profit.
Recent Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence reports show that heroin use in the United States has increased substantially over the past decade, with more than a million people nationwide believed to be addicted largely due to increased poppy production in Colombia.
Rogelio E. Guevara, the DEA's chief of operations, said that in recent years, poppy cultivation and heroin production have become dominated by independent trafficking groups outside the control of major cocaine organizations.
Mr. Guevara said Colombian heroin traffickers have established themselves as major sources of the drug in the Northeast, the largest heroin market in this country.
Paul E. Simons, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told the House Government Reform Committee last month that the department recognized the "increased growth and impact" of Colombian heroin and renewed efforts were under way to address it.
But Mr. Simons told the committee the poppy-eradication program in Colombia had been hampered by a lack of equipment and pilots, budgetary restraints and bad weather, although committee members countered that former Colombian National Police Director Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano had the same amount of equipment when he eradicated 22,724 acres in 2000.
Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, told the committee that U.S. officials in that country had increased the spraying of coca fields, from which cocaine is produced, and that program had been "very successful."
Mrs. Patterson described the cutback in the spraying of opium poppy fields, from which heroin is produced, as a "joint decision," but could not recall whether she had received any direction from the State Department or other federal agencies.
"I think you've made some wrong decisions that have resulted in a massive increase in the exportation of heroin into the United States," Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, told Mrs. Patterson. "As a result, our local police don't know what to do with this major flow of heroin out of Colombia."
Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, said eradication missions against Colombia's poppy fields were "drastically reduced" despite recommendations from U.S. and Colombian law enforcement officials to eradicate the drug at its source.
"This heroin is the purest, most addictive and deadly heroin produced anywhere in the world," he said. "With a single dose costing as little as $4 and having purity levels as high as 93 percent, this is a problem that demands the attention of Congress."
Mr. Burton said the decision to focus the Colombian eradication program on coca fields "has clearly had consequences," resulting in an increase in Colombian heroin availability in the United States, hospital overdoses and "overdose deaths in nearly every big city and small town east of the Mississippi."


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