Afghanistan Positioned Perfectly to Fuel American Opiate Addiction Epidemic

Opium Poppy

With news about General McChrystal’s recent firing due to insubordinate comments made against the Obama Administration, Afghanistan is at the top of the news yet again.

There were further comments released over the weekend by military brass that described the conflict in Afghanistan as one in which theUnited States doesn’t really have a clear path to victory.

A Different Kind of Threat from Afghanistan

The situation is not good there, but at home there’s a different epidemic that we’ve been writing about.  The epidemic of opiate addiction due to prescription drug abuse. The progression of OxyContin and Vicodin addicted men and women graduating from opiate pills to heroin continues to claim lives at an alarming rate.

A New Look at the Futility of the Drug War in Afghanistan

In an excellent article written by Alfred J. McCoy and published on, he outlines the history of the heroin industry in Afghanistan. Cultivation and trafficking of heroin has been funding tribal groups like the Taliban since those forces have been battling intruders like Russia and the United States in the 1980s.

Opium harvesting has grown from 250 tons in 1979 to over 8,200 tons in 2007.  Opium has provided as much as 50% of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product and accounts for 90% of the world’s heroin supply.

Alfred McCoy has been studying the history of the opium industry since the 1980s and has an interesting take on the current state of affairs in Afghanistan – the United States helped create the world’s largest “Narco State” which now cannot possibly withstand evolution into any other legitimate economy.

The mujahadeen who are the religious tribal guerrillas that make the Afghanistan campaign so treacherous were once considered “freedom fighters” (per Ronald Reagan) as they struggled against a common enemy in the 1980s. The CIA looked the other way as the opium crops were processed into heroin (after being smuggled into Pakistan) in order to fund the devout muslim tribal warriors.

Other crops and agribusiness fell by the wayside as irrigation and livestock were destroyed during the decades of war.  Opium requires less water than most other crops (although twice the labor- which actually has created even more labor dependence on the crop).

Starting in the 1990s, Afghanistan (under the Taliban regime)have created laboratories to process the opium into heroin in Afghanistan itself.  The drug is generating billions of dollars every year and these dollars go into the hands of powers that would like to see the United States campaign (and Hameed Karzai led government) fail.

An Interesting Solution

In addition to raising alarm about the situation, Alfred McCoy also points out a possible solution – bring the troops in Afghanistan home and use the money saved to build the legitimate agribusiness in Afghanistan.

According to McCoy, the only solution to pacify a narco state is to convert it to a “non narco state.”