Big poppy crop swells heroin tide

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THE Government warned yesterday that the threat of a heroin epidemic in Britain has been greatly increased by a "bumper poppy crop" being harvested in Afghanistan.

George Foulkes, the Under-Secretary for International Development, said that both sides fighting in the Afghan civil war were being financed by the profits of drug production.

Afghanistan is the source of 95 per cent of the heroin which comes to Britain and Customs officers have been alarmed at the scale of importation. A total of 1,747kg of heroin was seized in 1997, a tonne more than the previous year. Police estimate the haul has a street value of more than pounds 145m and is the equivalent of nine million "wraps". Mr Foulkes said: "Doing something about Afghanistan is probably more important to Britain than any other overseas issue."

The minister's warning came on the day that Britain's first American- style drug court was launched, allowing some heroin-using criminals arrested in parts of West Yorkshire to be dealt with at a special court and sentenced to treatment. They will be forced to give urine samples twice a week to prove they are staying off drugs and if they repeatedly fail they could face prison.

The drug court will sit weekly at Wakefield magistrates court from June. Addicts arrested from this week will be bailed to attend the court. More than 20 magistrates are undergoing training in dealing with drug-related crime - thought to make up 70 per cent of crime committed in the area.