- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Thirty-six state prosecutors have asked the federal government to do more to block an “alarming” increase in the flow of heroin from Colombia into the United States.

In a letter, the 36 attorneys general told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and drug czar John P. Walters they had seen “firsthand the affects this poison has on our country’s youth.” They asked the officials to devote their “attention and resources … to this rising problem.”

“In 2000, Congress approved an aid package, now commonly known as Plan Colombia, to assist that country in fighting the illegal drug industry within its borders,” the prosecutors said.

“While this joint effort by the United States and a cooperative Colombian government has been successful in eradicating coca plants, commensurate pressure must be applied to the opium fields that have proliferated in Colombia.”

The U.S. government has spent $2.5 billion since 2000 for aircraft, military equipment and training for drug-eradication programs and other counternarcotics operations in Colombia. Both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries finance their insurgencies through the sale of cocaine and heroin.

However, the former director of the State Department’s airborne drug-eradication program has said that department mismanagement has “seriously jeopardized” the program and its future.

John McLaughlin, who retired last month after 25 years as head of the Office of Aviation in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said the department’s inability to provide “consistent competent oversight” had contributed to the deaths of three pilots and the capture by Marxist rebels of three others.

The State Department declined to comment on Mr. McLaughlin’s charges.

Mr. Powell’s office did respond to the letter from the attorneys general.

It said that while Mr. Powell shares their conviction that “more can and should be done,” the State Department was conducting a “vigorous and successful campaign” to eradicate Colombian poppy crops. Colombia’s opium crop had been reduced by an estimated 25 percent in 2002.

In May, congressional investigators said the State Department had allowed a flood of Colombian heroin into the United States by underestimating the amount of the drug smuggled each year.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently said Colombian traffickers had established themselves as major sources of heroin in the Northeast, including Washington and Baltimore.

The attorneys general, including J. Joseph Curran Jr. in Maryland and Jerry Kilgore in Virginia, said heroin has recently experienced an “alarming surge in popularity,” rising to levels not seen since the 1970s.

They said Colombian heroin is of a higher purity than either Mexican or Asian heroin and, as a result, attracts young buyers because it can be can be injected, smoked or snorted.

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