Can we stop the flow of heroin into the US? What should be our strategy regarding Burma?
Thank you for showing such an even and informative documentary. I have enjoyed
Frontline for many years and am always pleased with the quality of your show.
Clearly the evidence presented shows the folly of DEA policy over the past decades.
The simple economics of spending 13 million dollars to purchase 70% of heroin that
enters the US for destruction, rather than giving 80 million dollars to a
military dictatorship with no effect.
It sad to hear government officials recite dogma rather than choosing solutions that
will have a direct positive effect on the dangerous drugs such as heroin.
Keep up the good work.
I enjoyed your fine show on The Opium Kings, but I was disturbed by
a few editorial comments that contribute to the standard media demonization
of illegal drugs.
Most viewers have difficulty seeing these drugs in perspective
without some effort to compare them to the drugs we know best. The misery and
death associated with opiates is dwarfed by alcohol, which accounts for about
80% of all addiction to psychoactive drugs, and alcohol and tobacco
combined, which account for some 95% of all drug related deaths. Absent
prohibition created conditions, an opiate addict behaves better and has
better health than an alcohol addict. [see Brecher in Consumer Reports'
excellent "Licit &Illicit Drugs" ]
Most experts believe that most opiate deaths are due to unregulated
additives rather than to the morphine/heroin itself, just as there was so
much death, blindness and paralysis caused by additives to alcohol during
The "Iron Law of Prohibition" means that, to enhance smuggling and
avoid detection of use, more potent illegal drugs are produced [traditional
marijuana and opium smoking has been replaced by injectible drugs], which in
turn has lead to the AIDS epidemic now devastating Southeast Asia.
Your program provided an excellent example of why the War on Drugs
can have no impact on curtailing supply [or addiction]. My conclusion is
that our policies wreak far more destruction than the drugs themselves.
Drug Policy Forum of Texas
During your show tonight on the Burmese opium trade,
not once was mentioned the single word that can stop
the trade in narcotics. That word is "legalize".
Instead, you showed numerous government spokesmen who
proclaimed those drug traffickers as the spawn of the
devil. Yet, those very devils offered the United States
government the opportunity to shut down half of the
world's trade in opium and its derivatives. The US
government turned it down flat. The reason: there is
no real interest in shutting down the illegal drug
Let's think what would happen if drugs were legalized
in the US. Since the drug trade represents about 60%
of all crime in America, suddenly, that percentage
of crime would vanish. Next, 60% of prisons, police
departments, all of the drug enforcement agencies,
drug lawyers, and assorted scum drug dealers would
find themselves out of business.
And THAT is the real reason that drugs will never
Deerfield Beach, FL
Adrian Cowell is a master of knowledge concerning the Golden Triangle. As the film
showed, I was there with him in 1977. I am convinced there is only one way to deal
with the heroin problem; and that is to embargo everything that would force
offending countries to stop growing poppies. I wouldn't give them a dime of
American money--for any reason whatsoever--until they had complied. I realize this
is 'tough love', but unless it happens we will never get rid of the drug
problem. Since the Executive refused to accept Khun Sa's offer in 1977, we now have
no other choice.
Joseph L. Nellis-Former Chf. Counsel/
Clearly, the two primary pawns in this situation are (1) the Burmese people
in the rural areas who have been left with absolutely no way to survive
other than by growing more of the opium-producing poppy, and (2) the
American public, who becomes ever increasingly addicted to the drug.
Ironically, it is the second group of pawns who are the actual cause of the
problem in the first place along with the obvious American affluence which
fuels the fire. No demand, no drugs produced.
The only parties actually profiting from the opium drug trade are the drug
dealers (both the Burmese and American) and the corrupt Burmese government.
We can not break the cycle by punishing the rural Burmese growers nor by
searching out each and every American drug addict (equivalent to the PBS
special author's description of trying to stop the donkey convoys in the
The key appears to lie with convincing the Burmese government to help these
rural people redevelop alternate ways to make a living, presumably was which
are easily taxable by the Burmese government, yet profitable for those
Of course, once Burma came around, there are a dozen other countries in line
behind them, ready to take over.
Thanks for Tuesday's program. A perfect example of how NOT to tackle North
America's drug problem. It's time for us to look inward and recognize
the problem as a one of public health and not crime. As long as there is a
demand for drugs in our society, there will be someone willing to supply
them. Let's get our heads out of the sand folks and help these poor
troubled people in our society instead of labeling them as criminals.
Ethics consists of rational decision making toward the highest level of
survival for the individual, his intimates, his groups (from clubs to
nations), mankind and mankind's future, other life-forms, and the planet
itself. It may also include contemplation of spirituality and of God or
gods. I have concluded after some experimentation, that psycho tropic
drugs are unethical -- that is, they reduce my survival in handling this
plane of existence and in improving my understanding of my spirituality.
My use of drugs, consequently, would reduce the survivability of my
family and friends, of my schooling, my work, my value as a activist with
the Michigan Nude Beach Advocates, my value as a citizen. It is a
rational decision, thus an ethical decision, to avoid drugs; but it is a
moral decision to enforce that decision upon others.
The war on drugs is void of all rationality. All the posturing of the
DEA, the state department, the drug czar, and our confused politicians
does not mitigate the harmful effects of our policies. To the litany of
problems caused by the "drug war" (a war waged upon American citizens) --
increased crime and violence, overburdened justice system, the
empowerment of criminals, an increased disrespect for all laws, the
deterioration of civil rights, corruption of police, an increase in drug
use and an increase in the use of more dangerous drugs, the
reappropriation and misappropriation of tax monies -- everything this
country experienced during alcohol prohibition -- to this litany we can
add the empowerment of vicious international drug cartels which undermine
civil and democratic authority in drug producing nations.
Anecdotes of the ruination of individuals and families by drug use
illustrates only my contention that drug use is a poor personal choice;
such tales are no proof whatsoever that drug prohibition is good public
policy. Perhaps, though, if one's intention is to profit from the
illicit trade and to encourage the development of a police state, our
nation's drug policies are perversely sensible. Probably, though, most
drug warriors are just blindly, stupidly, moralistic. Well, corrupt or
stupid, they need to be fired, all the way up to the majority speaker,
all the way to the president. How can we trust them with other public
policy decisions when they are so far off on this?
Your program on The Opium Kings was both uplifting and
depressing at the same time.
It is depressing to realize how our government's knee-
jerk reactions continue to occur without any in-depth analysis in dealing with international problems and dictatorships.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging that such programs as Frontline continue to
enlighten us. Thank you.
I do not know the amount of money the US government and the DEA spent or all the
related cost associated with the treatment and education of Heroin addicts, or for
that matter, any other drugs targeted by the "Anslinger" mentality, but I can
almost be positive that amount the American taxpayer shelled out in the WAR ON
DRUGS was a far greater amount than the $12 million asked for by the Heroin King at
The only answer to the stopping of drug traffic into this country is legalization of
all drugs, thus making the profit non-existent. And short of that obvious solution
is to go the farmer and buy the product from him/her. After buying it, you burn it
on the spot. That way the poor farmer can stay alive and feed his family, his only
concern anyway, and the taxpayer is not ripped-off by politicians and police
agencies who perpetuate the mythical WAR ON DRUGS to sustain their careers and
profit themselves through the misery of others, both in this country and abroad.
I'll bet if you added up all the money spent on fighting the importation of drugs
into this country and divided it by half and gave me that amount, I think I could
stop at least ninety percent of the drugs entering this country by just paying off
the growers and the Cartels.
Hey, it's worth a shot. What the government is doing now sure as hell does not work.
There are too many people in this country making money for there to be a real
effort to stop drug use and importation.
A most informative program. Unfortunately however, I do not believe the
real problem is at the production site. The real problem is with the
narcotics brokers on our own shores. I think the profits of these brokers
are utilized as capitol to control a significant portion of the US.
economy. This is why the narcotics program is so difficult to deal with and
government efforts so often turn into shams. If Frontline were to dig into
it, I would not be surprised if some of our most trusted and well known
business enterprises turned out to be major players.
Douglas L.R. Hauge
When is America going to shed its "Ugly American" image? And once again the powerful
giant shows its powerlessness faced with the extremely brutal Burmese regime.
Instead of eroding support from such genocidal regimes we encourage them by
providing military aid to fight their (our?) "war on drugs". Nobody would ever
argue that opium or any other drug like cigarettes or alcohol are ugly businesses,
yet starvation is worse for those enduring the brutality of a ruthless military
regime. Does our government really think that those poor Burmese peasants should
give up the only income that keeps them alive in exchange for a chimerical solution
to our profound social problems? It is time for America to realize that military
aid to military dictatorships is not the solution to its problems. We have created
the problem that we are. Has it ever crossed our minds that it is perhaps our
lifestyle which needs changing? Shouldn't we instead declare a war on blatant and
so disgusting self-righteousness?
Wake up America!
Your coverage of the Opium Kings was fascinating. The attitude of the DEA
representatives was in character and expected. They blame the Opium Kings for the
deaths of drug users. However, they have themselves to blame. Whereas I do not
condone the behavior of the opium kings, understanding their behavior is easier
than it is to understand the behavior of the DEA. If the US had accepted the
offer to purchase the opium in the 70's the opium trade would have dwindled.
Instead, the production of opium has increased dramatically.
I always enjoy your show
Dr. J.L. Stouffer
When will the world learn. To eliminate the evils that men do, we, as a world
society must provide the basic necessities of life. Provide the opportunity for
peace of mind and men such as "The Opium Kings" would not have the resources to
build their empires.
The end never justify the means.
While the show on Khun Sa and opium was interesting enough (though it could have
had more of a Heart of Darkness aspect to the story), it erred on the side of
presenting the picture as if Khun Sa were responsible for the heroin epidemic in the
US. DEA people were quoted on how they would like to arrest Khun Sa and bring him
to the States for *justice.*
Now, Khun Sa may be a bad man and a murderer, but he's not our bad man. He may
control the opium market at the source, but he doesn't create the demand here in
America. I can understand the DEA's attitudes Khun Sa says, it's how they make
their money; and I can understand your wanting to air those quotes but I would have
expected Front Line to give at least nodding recognition to a more realistic
As I'm fond of pointing out, don't blame the candy man because you're overweight.
Mr. Cowell's dedication to his past and present crusades is commendable. It is
truly amazing that he survived those trips.
Whatever became of Peter Bourne(?)? I am surprised that he wasn't elevated to a
major post after that brilliant decision to turn down the $12, mm buyout and send
$80. mm in aircraft instead.
What a shame Ollie North wasn't around in those days. He could have steered
Bourne(?) in the right direction.
FRONTLINE is like a good bottle of wine. Getting better with age. Keep up the good
Chino Hills, California
I believe the chances of stopping opium, or any drug for that matter, from coming
into this country is close to none. If we stop one source, another will be standing
in line to take its place. Considering how people are always seeking pleasurable
experiences, whether it be drugs, sex, food, etc., there will always be a market
for these things that provide the pleasure. Since there is plenty of money to be
made from the addicts in the US., there is a market for whomever is willing and
able to provide the product. I believe the answer lies in addressing the person,
their addiction and why they believe this substance, whatever it may be, makes them
feel empowered. However, that solution seems simple, yet complex when considering
out society's addictive nature.
Regarding the opium trafficking out of Burma, although Khun Sa may not be as
altruistic as he makes himself out to be, and while opium and heroin are
obviously a big problem worldwide, it is utterly hypocritical of the American
government to be persecuting Khun Sa, when America itself is the biggest
export of one of the deadliest drugs known to mankind.
The DEA representatives are quoted as claiming that Khun Sa is a great
criminal because he has "killed thousands of Americans" through heroin use.
Thus, they call for his extradition and harsh punishment. All the while,
American companies flood the world with cigarettes, which kill far more
people than heroin. Why go on this rampage against the poppy instead of
tobacco? Obviously, it is because tobacco provides enormous profits to
American business. So, why can the Americans poison the entire planet for
profit, while the Shan cannot? Should America hand over its tobacco company
heads to other countries for their crimes against citizens thereof, who die
from hideously tobacco-related illnesses that linger for years?
And what of all the junk food that American businesses have exported all
around the world, thus contributing to a variety of diet-related diseases
such as obesity, heart disease and various cancers? McDonald's, et al., pay
low wages, contribute in large part to the degradation of the environment,
and provide non-nutritious, artery-clogging "foods." What about the damage
all of this has done? Again, should the CEOs of these companies be
prosecuted for crimes against humanity?
Before America plays police to the rest of the world, it needs to clean up
its own act.
D. Surmani Murdock
The program commentary implies very strongly and at least twice that if the US had
paid some $12 million dollars to the drug lords they would have destroyed the opium
crops and spared the US the ordeal of having to deal with heroin dumping into the
US market and thereby reducing the suffering and death of untold numbers of
American addicts. One of the drug lords is even depicted as a gambler who naively
ventures into a helicopter which lands him among his Burmese political enemies----
until such time as the Burmese government uses him to undermine another drug lord.
Would that political maneuvering and drug smuggling in Burma were that simple.
There are numerous drug lords ( the two depicted are basically Chinese and
therefore are hardly representative of Shan youths and nationalists) throughout the
region which have traditionally carved out their domain and even notarized
cooperative agreements between the US-_-Kun Sa would not have led to much
success in suppressing the drug traffic.
There is much circumstantial evidence that the drug trade effected the US market
long before Kun Sa came on the scene and continues to do so with the " active"
retirement of the two kingpins. A brief visit to Rangoon (Yangon) these days will
show that massive sums of money are being used to build condos, villas, hotels for
a population bereft of customer goods and for a non-existent tourist population. It
does not take much informed opinion to assume that the monies for this kind of
development does not come from legitimate business sources.
It seems you have given reason, and therefore justification, to the
actions of criminals. Truth is absolute. Wrong is always wrong. It
doesn't matter the reason.
While it is true that morphine has its place in the legitimate
medical world, it is also true that opium and its derivatives have caused
much havoc in the world. I don't know, but would guess that the morphine
used in legitimate hospitals does not come from Burma.
I think it would have been wiser to paint this situation in a
different light. It is true that the United States government has not
always acted in the right way, or for the right reasons, concerning drug
enforcement. However, to rationalize the distribution of this killer goes
against the best interest of humankind.
Trent A Ruble
The question that no one seems to ask is: Should we even be doing this in the first
Our laws against heroin and related drugs were a mistake and cause more harm than
good. You can read the full facts at
For anyone interested in understanding the heroin issue, I suggest they read the
first 20 chapters of the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs at
Clifford A. Schaffer
Canyon Country, CA
A fascinating offer and an opportunity wasted is how I view
the Carter administration's reaction to Khun Sa's proposal to eliminate the poppy
crop. From my position as a private citizen, I have become increasingly convinced
primary goal of any bureaucracy is self perpetuation. The
DEAs decision is all too predictable, and self serving, the results more tragic for
the addicts and their families than needs be.
San Francisco, CA
How ironic that we consider the users to be the victims of opium when the
damage done to them is self-inflicted. Why do we pity them when the horrors
perpetrated on the Shan and other hill tribe groups in Southeast Asia are well
The United States government was itself involved in the trade, as it
routinely used military helicopters to transport opium in order to free up
local men to fight the spread of communism. I think that a lot of Americans
would be shocked to learn how much of the misery in that region was actually
caused by us (it was the US. de stabilization of the Cambodian government
that facilitated Pol Pot's rise to power and the subsequent massacres -
because that government asked us to stop bombing within their borders).
It is easy to not inject Heroin into one's bloodstream...I have managed to
resist the urge every day of my life so far. It is a far greater problem when
a brutal regime sends soldiers to your home. My pity is reserved for those
who cannot escape their affliction.
By the way, I loved your program on the opium kings. I have lived in Thailand
for the past 3 1/2 years and did a bit of reading on the subject, but I found
that I still have a lot to learn.
Stopping Burmese opium production is a fool's game because there are millions of
square miles of territory suitable for growing poppies all over the world.
Ending Burmese opium growing will only relocate it to Columbia, Peru, Bolivia,
Mexico, Turkey, Afghanistan, or any one of a dozen other countries. The United
States and all of our allies do not have the raw military power nor the diplomatic
influence to control even a fraction of the area suitable for growing opium. In
fact, opium can be grown right here in the United States!
I am one of millions who are fed up with this braindead drug war which causes so
much needless human misery world wide.
There is no way to stop drug use, but if we legalize drugs, 95% of the troubles we
have with narcotics will vanish like a bad dream.
DEA promises to end the drug trade remind me of jackasses braying in the wind.
It's perfectly obvious that the drug war is a total failure and can never succeed.
"If people want something, someone will provide it."
The purpose of the war on drugs is not to eliminate drugs, but is people control.
Anyone concerned with the evil effects of illegal drugs or having drugs pushed on
their children, has to favor decriminalization of drugs and permit the same freedom
to put things in our bodies as we have to put things in our minds.
Decriminalization would not completely solve the problem of drug addiction by some
people but it would immediately remove the criminal aspect of the problem and allow
addicts to receive medical help instead of a prison sentence.
Our freedoms are being totally destroyed in the name of an unwinnable war.
See the excellent article, Opium, Made Easy in the April '97 issue of Harper's
Seeing the cock-sure macho attitude of US government officials in this program
reminded me of the "toughness" that lead to the debacle in Viet Nam or the fiasco
I obviously can't evaluate the ethics or true motives of men like Khun Sa, but I
remember well how our government demonized Ho Chi Minh after alienating him by
supporting the colonial policies of the French in his homeland. Why is it that we
always seem to back dictators like the Burmese junta? We supported the Shah of
Iran, Saddam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, and others like them, only to have their
people hate us in the end.
While heroin is certainly a plague on our society, I would submit that the more
dangerous drug, especially in our policy-making offices, is testosterone.
Allen S. Thorpe