Drug barons promote heroin in the hunt for fatter profits: US war on narcotics is failing to stop a new 'product' hitting the streets, writes Patrick Cockburn in Washington

HEROIN is increasingly challenging cocaine as America's favourite drug following a shift in the marketing strategy of Latin American drug traffickers. Colombia, says the State Department, 'is the centre of an aggressive effort by the cocaine trafficking organisations to diversify into opium and heroin'.

The switch comes primarily because heroin is more profitable. A kilogram (2.2lb) of cocaine wholesales for between dollars 10,500 ( pounds 7,300) and dollars 40,000 in the United States, while a kilogram of heroin costs dollars 50,000 to dollars 250,000 on the wholesale market, according to the department's annual report on international drugs. It says: 'With the likelihood that heroin will be to the 1990s what cocaine was to the 1980s, Latin American trafficking organisations are poised to cash in on the heroin epidemic.'

Heroin has further advantages for drug traders. Cocaine is a stimulant that burns out consumers in about five years. Heroin is a depressant that can be taken over a much longer period. Opium, the base for heroin, can also be grown more diversely than Andean coca, from which cocaine is made. Currently, 56 per cent of coca comes from Peru, 24 per cent from Bolivia and 20 per cent from Colombia.

The main producers of opium are countries over which the US has little influence, notably Burma, which provides 60 per cent of the opium gum for the US market.

Afghanistan comes a distant second as a supplier, followed by Laos and Pakistan. Latin America is still far behind but Colombian drug dealers are developing new strains of the opium poppy to give a higher yield.

The State Department also pinpoints Nigeria as increasingly critical in the heroin trade. It says: 'Trafficking organisations from Nigeria are becoming the service industry of choice for the heroin trade. Almost every country reporting heroin seizures notes the involvement of Nigerian drug traffickers.'

Last October the US issued a warning to the former Nigerian head of state about the failure of his country's anti- drugs programme. The report says there is evidence of high- level corruption.

Although the State Department seeks to be upbeat about the efforts to combat the international drugs trade, the credibility of the so-called 'War on Drugs' launched by the US in the Eighties is being increasingly called into question. Its aim was to choke the supply of drugs at source.

In the most eloquent attack on this policy, the Attorney- General of Colombia, Gustavo de Greiff, wrote in the Washington Post last month that this policy had demonstrably failed.

'Today, cocaine on the streets of Washington is less expensive than it was in 1980,' he said. 'What is surprising is that it has taken so long for the central fact of the drug trade to sink in - as long as a kilo of cocaine changes in value from dollars 500 to perhaps dollars 20,000 by virtue of the short flight from Colombia to the United States, there will always be people who will be willing to enter the business.'

Mr de Greiff strenuously defended his policy of plea-bargaining with leaders of the Cali cartel in Colombia on the grounds that obtaining hard evidence against them was virtually impossible.

He played down the significance of the death of Pablo Escobar, the founder of the Medellin cartel, killed in a shoot-out in December last year. The Cali cartel was not a cohesive criminal organisation and only a limited amount was known about how it operated, he said. Plea-bargaining with its leaders would gain information about how Colombian drug trafficking now works.

The State Department report makes clear there is no shortage of raw opium or coca. Given that a ton of cocaine is worth dollars 100m to dollars 200m on US streets, the 'drug revenues give trafficking organisations the capacity to buy influence and protection at almost every level of government'.

The State Department cites some instances of official corruption. In January this year the Zambian foreign minister resigned after allegations about drugs, while Costa Rica's ambassador to Poland was arrested with 12kg of heroin in his possession.

As described by Pablo Escobar, the essence of the drugs trade remains: 'You bribe somebody here, you bribe somebody there and you pay a friendly banker to bring the money out of the country.'

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game