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Can we stop the flow of heroin into the US? What should be our strategy regarding Burma?

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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.
Ottawa Canada


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 Prohibition.

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and avoid detection of use, more potent illegal drugs are produced [traditional marijuana and opium smoking has been replaced by injectible drugs], which in turn has lead to the AIDS epidemic now devastating Southeast Asia.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.

Jerry Epstein,
vice president,
Drug Policy Forum of Texas
Houston, TX


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 trade.

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 be legalized.

Joey Grasty
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/
Narcotics Comm.
Washington, DC


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 Burmese jungles).

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 people. !!!!!

Of course, once Burma came around, there are a dozen other countries in line behind them, ready to take over.

Fred Frazier
Cocoa, FL


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.

Bruce MacLeod
Stratford, Ontario


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?

Matthew Kerwin
Chelsea, Michigan


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.

Brad Smith
Westminster, CO


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 time.

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
London, Ontario


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.

Charles Smith
Houston, Texas


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 viewpoint.

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 reporting.

Lee Shaffer
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.

Lorraine M
Detroit, Michigan


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
Venice, CA


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.

Pittsburgh, PA


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
Roanoke, Indiana


The question that no one seems to ask is: Should we even be doing this in the first place?

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 that the 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.

Raymond Duray
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 documented?

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.

Todd Brizendine


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 Magizine.

Bob Fauvre
Eugene, Oregon


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 at Waco.

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
Orangeville, Utah

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