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Latest figures on Colombian coca production indicate we're losing the battle on the supply side
date: 22-April-2006
editorial comment editorial comment
Don't worry. We are doing much better on the demand side........

In recent years the United States has given more than $4 billion in aid to Colombia. Most of it was spent on Plan Colombia, intended to cut coca plant production in half over six years, thus reducing the illegal supply of cocaine.

The latest figures from the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy indicate that, far from accomplishing the goal, Plan Colombia is losing ground. According to the White House figures, coca production expanded about 21 percent last year, to 355,680 acres.

In a news release, the White House asserted that the higher figure could result from a more comprehensive satellite and ground survey. If true, then previous figures did not begin to reflect an accurate assessment and were all but worthless, particularly those indicating sharp reductions in coca production.

As Joy Olson, director of a Washington think tank, told John Otis of the Chronicle's South American Bureau, "In reality, coca cultivation and cocaine production exceed the official estimates, probably by a wide margin."

Losing the supply side battle in the war on drugs means more than increased cocaine on U.S. streets. Murderous narcotics traffickers in Mexico are making life dangerous for residents on both sides of the border between Texas and Mexico. If expensive efforts to limit the supply of cocaine are not working, perhaps the money would be better spent in an effort to limit demand.

Some surveys show cocaine use among young Americans has declined, although alcohol and tobacco use might be gaining. Anti-drug education could be a factor.

Treatment programs help many drug addicts to quit and lead productive lives, but spaces are limited. Many prisons filled with drug and alcohol abusers lack adequate treatment programs, perpetuating the problem when inmates return to the streets.

One thing seems clear. Spending $4 billion on a program that is helpless to prevent expanded coca production would be better spent at home on prevention and treatment.

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