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Afghanistan and illegal drug trade

December 31, 2006

Re "Heroin from Afghanistan is cutting a deadly path," Dec. 26

How should we deal with this growing menace? More cops? More busts? More prison time? That hasn't worked before, and there is no reason to believe it will now. How about dealing with the problem at the source, in Afghanistan. Afghan peasants grow opium because it is the only crop they can sell for a decent price. Will we win their hearts and minds by burning their fields or bombing them with toxic chemicals? Not likely.

How then to deal with this dangerous crop in a way that also will advance our larger objectives? Buy it -- all of it. Offer a price equal to or slightly above what the drug lords pay. Offer the peasants protection against drug lords who object. We are the toughest gang in town, after all. Refine our purchases into morphine to sell (or better, give) to hospitals. If we have any left over, destroy it. Keep doing this year after year until we can help the growers find an equally lucrative crop to sustain their meager lifestyles. Expensive? Of course, but so is the alternative. But unlike the alternatives, this one will put us on the side of the people.

CHARLES BELL

Mountlake Terrace, Wash.

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It's nice to see that one of the primary results of the U.S. invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban government was to dramatically increase the heroin production there, with much of it going to the U.S., including Southern California. One of the few positive aspects of Taliban rule was that it significantly reduced heroin production. But, since 2001, that production has zoomed to new levels, endangering the lives of millions of people. Another foreign policy success story for President Bush.

RALPH S. BRAX

Lancaster

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The Times writes that heroin-related deaths in Los Angeles County have experienced a jump of nearly 75% in three years, and that "the jump in deaths was especially prevalent among users older than 40." It is the unpredictability of actual doses that causes the most deaths of heroin addicts. This applies at least equally in cocaine usage. It is a strong argument for legalizing or decriminalizing drugs in general, because government-regulated drugs would be consistent in strength. Indeed, supplying drugs such as heroin and cocaine to addicts by prescription would drastically cut accidental deaths and drop the bottom out of the illegal drug trade by undercutting the price structure. There would be no more need for the pathetic war on drugs.

PETER FELDMANN

Los Olivos, Calif.

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