The Dope on Dope

How Global Heroin Shifts Could Hit Home

Yet most of the anticipated consequences of actions thousands of miles away are still just that, anticipated. As with the far-off bombing, the current debates at home over heroin and Afghanistan deal more with perception than with hard circumstances.

Government leaders have linked the war on drugs with the war against terrorism—regardless of reports that the Northern Alliance, U.S. allies, also relies on heroin funds. Congressman Rob Portman, a co-chairman of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's antidrug task force, was quoted in a recent Cincinnati Post article headlined "Patriots Don't Use Heroin" saying, "By Americans spending money on their drug habits, we are helping to support the Taliban government, which protects terrorism."

In response to the government's spin, Common Sense for Drug Policy, a liberal advocacy group in D.C., is running an ad in major opinion journals asking: "Could a regulated and controlled model for soft drugs similar to our approach with alcohol and for hard drugs similar to prescription drugs stop the flow of illegal drug profits?" Indeed, says Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense, the only way to cut funding to the Taliban and other suppliers is to remove the "illegal" from the drug trade.

Critics of the government's $12 billion-a-year antidrug effort, including the authors of a March 2001 report commissioned by the White House itself, say authorities know far too little about players and tactics in the international market to cut off drugs effectively at their source. Rather, say legalizers—who mostly do not advocate a dope free-for-all, but rather regulation by prescription and other controls—the focus should be on realistically managing demand. One government program in Switzerland, where some users receive heroin prescriptions and clean equipment, has helped reduce drug-related crime and improve addicts' health. Zeese predicts the Afghan heroin glut and probable increased use could lead to serious consideration of the Swiss model in the rest of Europe. "They're a lot more pragmatic and smarter than we are," he says.

Such reforms will not likely fly in today's law-and-order U.S. If anything, the injection of Taliban heroin into the Bush administration's crusade against evil only burns the mark of sin darker on the flesh of drug users. "They've already been under attack and have been for a long time," says advocate Grove. "Now, they're being called accomplices to terrorism."


Research assistance: Whitney Kassel

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