A rock of crack as big as the Ritz

February 21st, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, statistics, telegraph | 65 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 21 2009
The Guardian

imageIn a week where our dear Daily Mail ran with the headline “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer”, I will exercise some self control, and write about drugs instead.

“Seven hundred British troops seized four Taliban narcotics factories containing £50m of drugs” said the Guardian on Wednesday. “Troops recovered more than 400kg of raw opium in one drug factory and nearly 800kg of heroin in another.” Lordy that is good. In the Telegraph, British forces had seized “£50 million of heroin and killed at least 20 Taliban fighters in a daring raid that dealt a significant blow to the insurgents in Afghanistan.” Everyone carried the good news. “John Hutton, defence secretary, said the seizure of £50m of narcotics would ‘starve the Taliban of funding preventing the proliferation of drugs and terror in the UK’.”

Well.

First up, almost every paper got both the quantities and the substances wrong, which always feels a bit disappointing from the people we pay to take facts from sources and precis them into a readable and convenient portable paper format. From the MoD press release (which is quite a romping read) three batches of opium were captured, but no heroin: “over 60kg of wet opium”, “over 400kg of raw opium” and “the largest find of opium on the operation, nearly 800kg”.

So the army captured 1260kg of opium. Opium is not heroin, and it takes about 10kg of opium to make 1kg of heroin.. They also found some chemicals and vats. The opium was enough to make roughly 130kg of heroin.

image How much was this haul worth to the Taliban, and exactly how much of a blow will it strike? Heroin is not very valuable in itself, because opium is easy to grow and you can turn it into heroin over the course of three simple steps using some school science class chemicals in your kitchen (or if you prefer, a muddy barn in rural Afghanistan). Heroin becomes expensive because it is illegal, and because there are risks to be taken and incentivised for its production and distribution.

The “farm gate” price of 1kg of opium in Afghanistan is $100 at best. I will do this all in dollars, since the best figures are from the UN drugs control programme 2008 world report, and you can watch with amusement as the sub-editors convert my dollar estimates into spuriously precise sterling equivalent figures. Therefore the 1260kg of opium captured on this raid, in Afghanistan, is worth somewhere near $126,000 (not £50 million).

What if it had been converted to heroin? The price of 1kg of heroin in Afghanistan is not much greater than than the cost of the 10kg of opium you will need to make it, because heroin was invented over 100 years ago, and making it, as I said, really isn’t that difficult. We could be generous and say that heroin is worth $2000 per kg in Afghanistan. So fine: this would make the army’s (potential) 130kg of heroin worth about $250,000.

image That’s still not £50m. Where did this number come from? Perhaps everyone was trying to calculate it by using the wholesale price in the UK, assuming that the Taleban ran the entire operation from “farm gate” to “warehouse in Essex”. This is a stretch of our generosity but we can give it a go: the wholesale price of heroin in the UK has fallen dramatically over the past two decades, from $54,000 per kilo in 1990 to $28,000 in 2006. That would make our 130kg of (potential) heroin worth $3.6 million.

We’re still nowhere near £50 million. Wait: maybe these people seriously think that every sweaty tyke with missing teeth in King’s Cross selling £10 bags is secretly an agent for the Taleban, passing profits on – in full – to Taleban HQ, several thousand miles away. Even then, UK heroin is $71 per gram at retail prices (down from $157 a gram in 1990), so the value of our 130kg is $9 million. Okay, it’s only 30-50% pure, so we’ll be generous: this haul is worth $30 million on the streets, or £20 million, at absolute best, using individual street level UK retail prices on the gram. That’s not £50 million.

image But the most important thing about figures – once you’ve actually got them right – is to put them in their appropriate context. Even if we were generous, would 130kg less heroin make any difference to the UK market? No. We consume tons and tons of heroin every year, and the heroin in Afghanistan, in any case, is going anywhere and everywhere in the world, not just here.

More importantly, would this seizure make much difference to the Taleban, whichever figure you use: $126,000, or $3.6 million, or $30 million, or £50 million? I doubt it. There are 157,000 hectares (100 metres squared) of opium fields in Afghanistan producing 7,700 tons (not kilos) of opium, netting farmers throughout the country about $730 million, and that’s real money in their pocket, not made-up UK street prices on the diluted gram. The export value of opium, morphine and heroin at border prices in neighbouring countries for Afghan traffickers was worth $3.4 billion last year.

Just to remind you: John Hutton is the defence secretary, and he said that the seizure of £50m of narcotics would “starve the Taliban of funding preventing the proliferation of drugs and terror in the UK”. That frightens me, because I trust him to know what’s going on in a war, and you didn’t even need to do the maths on his figure: this seizure was a tiny drop of theatre in a very, very big ocean.

Please send your bad science to ben@badscience.net

More joy on the same subject with zillions of references from my mate Steve here.


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65 Responses



  1. Skeptyk said,

    February 21, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Oh, Ben, you and your fancy shmancy math. All that complex adding and subtracting makes our head hurt.

    Seriously, thanks for this.

    Ah, love the Telegragh writing: “cut down”…”picked off”…”take them out”…”the guys opened up on him”…what fun, just like a movie for the readers.

    “…and killed at least 20 Taliban fighters…” Killing people is never something to celebrate. It is always a piece of tragedy.

  2. Fish Custard said,

    February 21, 2009 at 2:49 am

    Obligatory rant on the uselessness of the war on drugs and the possibilities, now being turned into reality in Switzerland, of curtailing harm caused by their use by nationalizing the whole trade.

    [And if we – the Government – actually offered to buy a big amount of the crop, but only from non-Taliban sources…]

  3. jackpt said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:01 am

    You’re now the fifth return for Will Self Ritz Crack on my Google.

  4. paddyfool said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Sorry to correct your maths, Ben, but you’ve made a decimal slip:

    “The “farm gate” price of 1kg of opium in Afghanistan is $100 at best…. Therefore the 1260kg of opium captured on this raid, in Afghanistan, is worth somewhere near $126,000 … We could be generous and say that heroin is worth $2000 per kg in Afghanistan. So fine: this would make the army’s (potential) 130kg of heroin worth about $250,000.”

    Surely you mean either that heroin is worth $200 per kg in Afghanistan, or that the potential 130kg of heroin is worth about $2,500,000 (I suspect the former).

  5. thepoisongarden said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:26 am

    #2 Fish Custard

    ‘but only from non-Taliban sources’

    Nice idea but how would you propose ‘non-Taliban sources’ be identified?

    And it wouldn’t solve the problem of the Taliban’s involvement. Buy off the present growers and the Taliban would just find others.

    Your first paragraph was bang on the money. Trying to control supply hasn’t worked. We need to look at dealing with demand but that means treating substance abuse as entirely an undramatic health issue and, as we know, the press like to have drama with their drugs.

  6. paddyfool said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Arg! Please ignore previous entirely stupid comment that somehow forgot about the quantity being divided by ten.

  7. scarynige said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:32 am

    #4 paddyfool: 130*2000 = 260,000. Where’s the problem?

  8. drunkenoaf said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

    @nige I think he’s confused opium with heroin. There’s the order of magnitude. 10kg opium –> 1kg heroin

  9. Picklish said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I always get confused with this whole poppy thing. Don’t poppies make morphine? Isn’t that well known as a ‘useful’ drug? And codedine apparently. I’ve had that, did these afghan terror-farmers make money from that too? In fact, why can’t anyone ever just say that opiods are effective, powerful painkillers?

    Or, alternatively, we could buy all the poppies for rememberence sunday, instead of the mass produced plastic ones that are probably made from oil.

    don’t even get me started on the coca leaf.

    all over Bolivia is the phrase ‘la hojo de coca no es droga’ – im sure that could be disputed, but you get the point. Anyone know the afghan for ‘poppies aren’t smack?’

  10. thepoisongarden said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:27 am

    #8 Picklish

    Yes, poppies make morphine. Heroin is diamorphine (2 morphine molecules stuck together).

    Poppies to be used for producing morphine and diamorphine are grown specifically for that purpose and come from, mostly, Tasmania, Spain, the UK and Poland.

    Total opium production for heroin is about 8,000 tonnes. Total opium for medicinal use is about 600-700 tonnes (very rough numbers).

    In a place like Afghanistan you couldn’t grow ‘legal’ poppies because you would have no way of distinguishing them from illegal plants.

  11. Picklish said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

    but, and if i’m missing something here please tell me, can’t the mophine buying countries

    (digg.com/world_news/Six_Countries_Consume_80_of_World_s_Morphine_Everyone_Else_Suffers)

    just buy the poppies from afghanistan and make morphine and it’s derivatives out of it?

    Or, destroy them all and force the local population to support a regime that whilst i’m sure they know is dubious, at least doesn’t destroy their livelyhood…

    Because, if all political parties (except the BNP) in Britain stopped farmers growing (e.g.) wheat, and that was their main cash crop (I don’t know if it is or not, just an example), then who do you think the farmers would support?

    Not meaning for this to turn into a political rant, i ken that this column is about dodgy stats and science (and well it should remaian)

  12. mchem said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:49 am

    # 9 thepoisongarden

    Heroin is diamorphine, which is actually short for diacetylmorphine. It’s not two morphine’s stuck together, but one morphine with two acetyl groups stuck on instead of the H on hydroxides, making two ester groups instead of the two hydroxides. Wikipedia has some nice images if I remember correctly, and the page linked to in the article has the method on for esterification (addition of acetic anhydride).

    As with so many things, the Swiss plan sounds good on the surface, but I doubt it would work well in practice.

  13. Chris Walsh said,

    February 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Small point, but the spelling of the word ‘Taliban’ morphs into ‘Taleban’ for a while, and then back to ‘Taliban’ ’til the end. Which is the right one?

  14. sideshowjim said,

    February 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Remember kids: Only buy fair-trade heroin

  15. Synchronium said,

    February 21, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    John Hutton is going to have you eliminated.

  16. D-Notice said,

    February 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Transform made a similar point

    transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2009/02/minijstry-of-defense-propaganda-and.html

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    yup (it’s linked from above!) transform are excellent, me and steve rolles are thinking about doing a book together on the history and present day of dodgy science and moralising rhetoric in prohibition, it’s a very rich vein of comedy. we’re giving it some chat together at the Reefer Madness matinuee soon in London

    www.reefermadnesslondon.com/events.html

  18. huey said,

    February 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Haha the guardian took out your little snipe at the sub editors.

    “The “farm gate” price of 1kg of opium in Afghanistan is $100 at best. I will do this all in dollars, since the best figures are from the UN drugs control programme 2008 world report. Therefore the 1,260kg of opium captured on this raid, in Afghanistan, is worth somewhere near $126,000, not £50m.”

    I have always suspected this…they never explain how they calculate these huge figures, so they mean nothing.

  19. Arthur Embleton said,

    February 21, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Ben, that would make a great book. I’m glad you’ve pointed out that the price of heroin in the UK is inflated due to the risk of getting it here and selling it.

    When the government successfully cracks down on heroin being brought into the country, then there is a reduced supply but demand won’t drop much as the drug is (apparently) highly addictive. This causes the price to rise, requiring the users of the drug to resort to crime to fund their addiction. This adds to human misery in the UK and increases insurance premiums.

    It strikes me that the best thing to do, would be to employ some Afghan farmers to produce heroin for us, and sell it at a cost price to users in shooting galleries here in the UK. Cut out the dealers, and their high mark up. Make it affordable to those already addicted.

  20. thepoisongarden said,

    February 21, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    #12 mchem

    Thanks for the correction. It was a doctor who said to me ‘think of it as two morphine molecules banged together’. Serves me right for believing what doctors say.

  21. helena83 said,

    February 21, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    The MoD press release describes the operation as capturing “four narcotics factories containing drugs, chemicals and equipment with a UK street value of £50m”, so the £50m value isn’t necessarily wrong. But it clearly refers to more than just the drug seizure.

  22. mobfant said,

    February 21, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    helena83 – this was my initial reaction, but read transform’s article (see Ben’s comment, above) and the street chemicals are pretty cheap and I’d be the equipment isn’t worth anywhere near that much.

    On top of that, read the end of the MOD press release and John Hutton’s comment:

    Defence Secretary John Hutton said:

    “The seizure of £50 million worth of narcotics will starve the Taliban of crucial funding preventing the proliferation of drugs and terror on the UK’s streets.”

    He specifically refers to narcotics. Which may just be a slip of the tongue, but I can’t see the equipment making up the £49m (or, being kind, £20m) shortfall in their calculations

  23. rhebus said,

    February 21, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Your subs still managed to slip some spurious precision of pounds in, despite your warning: “more than 400kg [882lb] of raw opium”.

  24. cebolla said,

    February 21, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Re the title… F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know, sounds a bit strong but F. him I say.

  25. The Biologista said,

    February 21, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Seems like a very basic failure of fact-checking. The press release material was less accepted at face value than it was actually misrepresented. So there’s at least two layers of BS there…

  26. stever said,

    February 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    helena – the chemicals and barrels etc have no ‘street value in the Uk’ nor would they be transported here for sale. Its total bollocks, and as mobfant says, the minister specifically refers to ’50million in narcotics’ – in the same press release. They actually contradict themsleves – small wonder the media got confused. There was no heroin found and the 50million figure is ludicrously overinflated however you want to spin it, so the ‘£50 million of heroin’ that received massive coverage stat was utterly wrong – but a brilliant coup for the MOD. I asked them if they were going to correct the media on this point and they said no.

    it was (drug) war propaganda, pure and simple.

  27. warhelmet said,

    February 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    And what messages does this article send to the Young People of Britain?

    Answers on a postcard…

    Oh, and even assuming that the Taliban get a fair chunk of the street price, is it not the case that moving those amounts of money without detection is in itself a difficult and costly exercise? It’s not as if you can send a parcel of used fivers to Afghanistan.

    It’s propaganda. Along with don’t fight a war in winter in Russia, trying to occupy Afghanisation is up there on the list of top military no-nos. Fail.

  28. tom1 said,

    February 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    >don’t fight a war in winter in Russia
    Or,”never fight a land war in Asia”.

  29. Craig said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    This reminds me of when I was working at the Supreme Court of NSW.

    We had a bloke in court who’d been caught growing some dope. He had a single planter box that he’d thrown a handful of seeds into, planning on culling out all but the best-growing half-dozen or so, but was busted before it got that far. About fifty had sprouted into inch-high seedlings when he was caught.

    So, the cops decreed that a dope plant was worth $2,000 (which is a bullshit figure to start with), claimed that this meant he was caught in possession of $100,000 worth of drugs, and charged him as a large-scale commercial grower.

    All this despite the fact that there wasn’t enough weed in his planter to give a single mouse the munchies.

  30. elder_pegasus said,

    February 22, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Didn’t the BMA suggest buying the poppies up to help ease a diamorphone shortage in europe? Idea is you’d cut funds to the taleban, improve relations with afghan farmers (buyign their crop rather than destroying it), and resolve a supply shortage over here. Idea got shot down by the US AFAIK – drugs are bad, mm-kay?

  31. thepoisongarden said,

    February 22, 2009 at 9:58 am

    elder_pegasus

    The idea got shot down because it’s a bad idea.

    You can’t expect the Taliban to just give up and go away. They would find other growers; there’s plenty of land in Afghanistan where poppies could be grown.

    In the Golden Triangle, the groups who made their money from opium now produce methamphetamine so, even if every Afghan farmer were paid off for not growing poppy, the Taliban would ‘diversify’ into other activities.

    Then there’s the religious problem. Many farmers refuse to grow poppy on religious grounds. If the west rewarded farmers by buying their poppy crop, that would be seen by many as another affront to Islam.

  32. warhelmet said,

    February 22, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    There is no reason why the UK should not be self-sufficient in opium poppies. I think I’m right in saying that opium poppies were grown in parts of East Anglia?

  33. Synchronium said,

    February 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    In some secret location, yeah.

    When I find it, it’s going to be a beautiful day…

  34. CDavis said,

    February 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    This clears up a great mystery for me. I’ve had cause to wonder on many occasions why it is that crime reporters appear to be paying anything up to ten times more for their stuff than the rest of us…

  35. thepoisongarden said,

    February 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    #32 warhelmet

    Johnson Matthey Macfarlan Smith www.macsmith.com/default.aspx?pageId=113 owns the only UK poppy growing business.

    www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23404311-details/The%20painkilling%20fields:%20England's%20opium%20poppies%20that%20tackle%20the%20NHS%20morphine%20crisis/article.do for some places where poppies are grown.

  36. thepoisongarden said,

    February 22, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Whoops

    See the tinyurl preview before going to the site.

    preview.tinyurl.com/35zg8f

  37. warhelmet said,

    February 22, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    @Synchronium – It looks like Didcot powerstation in the background of the piccy on thepoisongarden’s link. And a little research reveals that it is.

  38. stever said,

    February 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Ive written a bit about UK poppy growing here:

    transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2008/06/opium-stories-afghanistan-iran-and-uk.html

    its not illegal to grow opium poppies, just process them in to opium.

  39. warhelmet said,

    February 22, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    @Stever – and what message does this send to the Young People of Britain?

    Whatever next, smack-heroin addicts carefully tending their crop at the allotments? Oh, and don’t dried opium poppy flowers used for flower arranging have a potentially high level of morphine in? It’s obviously not illegal to extract morphine from poppy straw and then process than into codeine and diamorphine. Otherwise it would not happen in the UK. And I did read a paper from the DTI with concerns over the monopoly of diamorphine production in the UK. Nuff said.

    The lack of infrastructure in Afghanistan makes it very difficult to get the worm’s eye view of what is going on. Gaza – you do find some stuff from bloggers based there and some post in english. I’m not sure that the man on the Helmand omnibus would view the MOD’s press release in the same way that we do, sat x-thousand miles behind the frontline.

    Bah.

  40. old pillman said,

    February 23, 2009 at 7:38 am

    The UK “anti-drugs” policy is a mess and has been for many years.
    It’s not helped by wild-eyed crazies huffing that “our streets are no longer safe” or whatever.

  41. banshee said,

    February 23, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Thanks Ben and everyone for an interesting discussion.

    Can I suggest another text for readers of this blog?

    “Heroin Century” by Carnwath and Smith

    I’ve a very readable book in my library (how grand!) covering the development of heroin as an illicit drug – especially over the 20th Century which is when the international legislation kicked off as the basis for todays drug policies.

    Opium mixed with alcohol and spice (laudanum) was one of the few effective medical interventions in Europe from the 16th century onwards until recent years (IMHO). Children were pacified with it and cakes were spiced with it! Until the pharmacy acts around 1868 anyone could trade in it in the UK.

    Coleridge reputedly wrote under the influence of laudanum and a Mr S Holmes, albeit fictionally, used opium, cocaine and IV morphine. But the author was probably reflecting some of the mores of the time……

  42. stephenray said,

    February 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

    It’s about time all recreational drugs were decriminalised.

    It’s highly unlikely to lead to a long-term increase in consumption; it would remove a number of crimes from the statute book, which would reduce the crime rate and the pressure on the criminal court system; it’s entirely arguable that recreational habits of the individual only become the business of the government when it becomes a public nuisance; the cost of recreational drugs would decrease as the criminal profits are removed; drug-related crime would disappear since most people would not need to turn to crime to feed a habit; the safety of drug usage would increase substantially reducing the pressure on the health service; drug users would not be criminalised and thrust into the criminal community merely by being drug users; gang culture – including knife and gun crime motivation – would be crippled; billions of central government funds would be freed up to spend on other things (including counselling and treatment for those who become addicted, far more than is available for those services currently).

    And I say it again: drug usage is unlikely to rise in the long term. cf the US experience when Prohibition was repealed.

    The current system of interdiction is not working, and is never likely to. The more successful the policy, the more profit to be made from illegal drugs, the more people are motivated to get involved for the vast sums involved, the harder the authorities have to work and the more money they have to spend on the interdiction policy, and so on in a common-or-garden arms race.

    The artificial inflation of figures in drug seizures is, in one view, the natural result of the desire on the part of the interdicters to make themselves seem successful in the teeth of the overwhelming evidence of failure.

  43. muscleman said,

    February 23, 2009 at 11:51 am

    WRT not fighting in Afghanistan, there was a chap they refer to as Iskander who went through some time BCE who seems fondly remembered. Probably because he in essence opened up the silk route thus bringing in prosperity and exotic goods from East and West.

    Afghanistan is the sort of crossroads place it is better for everyone is left alone to do its thing. Like Switzerland in central Europe. The toxic element of course is religion. It was religion which caused the Taleban to invade in the first place. It was religion that induced them to offer a Saudi-Yemeni guy safe harbour with his friends. Without religion the locals would have asked him what he was trading and then booted him out.

  44. muscleman said,

    February 23, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    @Banshee
    I’m not sure describing Laudanum as a ‘remedy’ is entirely accurate in today’s parlance. At best it functioned as an analgesic and aid to rest. Which of course would then allow the body space to heal itself. But it was for eg no antibiotic and if you had something your body could not fix, no amount of laudanum would remedy it.

    Mind you when the eldest was small and rather over active and prone therefore to getting over tired some laudanum would have worked wonders for all, including our upstairs neighbours at the time who seemed to think we enjoyed our child screaming fit to burst and were doing nothing to stop it . . .

  45. RedMist said,

    February 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    When did the Teleban start drug running?

    Last I heard they were against the stuff. If they wont touch alcohol, then why would they go near drugs?

    Isn’t this more demonisation?

  46. Wyatt Earp said,

    February 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Chris Walsh: in written Arabic, only consonants and long vowels are usually indicated (there is a way of specifying short vowels, but the convention’s arisen that this isn’t usually used outside the Qu’ran).

    Since spoken Arabic isn’t standardised, that generally means that which short vowel you use depends on two things: which dialect of Arabic you choose to base your transliteration on, and what you think the nearest English sound to the Arabic vowel is.

    So Ben can use either, and in an unsubbed blog article, probably will.

    I think that’s it anyway.

  47. tom-p said,

    February 23, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Redmist – they apparently were pre-11/9/2001, and opium production was well down, but after the US et al attacked, they soon recognised the potential for some ready cash.

  48. Wonk411 said,

    February 23, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    It has been a very long time since I was an undergraduate and produced my paper on drugs, but it was my opinion then, as it remains today, that the biggest benefit from treating addiction and drug use as a medical issue via prescription is that one can think of addiction as a disease whose vector of transmissions is other addicts who seek to support their own habits by ‘infectin’ others. Remove the economic incentive to do so, and one expects new addiction rates to drop dramatically. You also deny huge sums of money to those who organize the crime.

  49. samarkeolog said,

    February 23, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    One of the other reasons it pays to cut supply at the source is the other organisations that traffic it from source to market (and, in the case of opium, process it into heroin).

    For heroin, the processing and smuggling organisations include Turkish Grey Wolves and Albanian KLA (or the mafia that funds it), Kurdish PKK and Serbian Red Berets. As the PKK link notes, ‘politics, intelligence gathering and serious crime can intersect'; gang leaders got asylum in Britain and gave intelligence in return.

    Once the narcotics are in the market country, they fund coordinated criminal operations that also traffic people, arms, and art and antiquities.

    They are long posts, but on my research blog, I have described the flow of drugs and antiquities from source through transit to market countries, and the mess of alliances, rivalries and conflicts between the paramilitary and extremist organisations that control that flow.

  50. Wyatt Earp said,

    February 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Or rather Qur’an. Rats.

  51. Ali_mac said,

    February 25, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Now I’ve finally negotiated the login system (confuddled by already being a WordPress user), I forget what I was going to say. Oh yes.

    I notice that most people in the media like to use the ‘children as young as…’ argument to dramatise their story, as in ‘Children as young as five are being given sex education.’

    Five and six year olds, those little kids with the developing malleable brains, are not on Facebook. Trust me. Any five year olds that are on Facebook would probably find that the brain-rotting properties of Facebook were more than balanced out by neural connections than granted them their truly astounding reading ages.

  52. Ali_mac said,

    February 25, 2009 at 11:21 am

    And I posted it in the wrong place. Sigh. I’ll just try that again.

  53. lasker said,

    February 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    We must keep drugs illegal so that bad people have something constructive to do.

    They give us what we want.

    And we can lock them up.

    Perfect.

  54. banshee said,

    February 26, 2009 at 7:32 am

    @muscleman

    Maybe a remedy is the wrong term to use – but laudanum’s role in treating – OK ameliorating the symptoms – of the almost endemic enteric infection, effective pain relief and euphoric sedation must have been a boon to many!

  55. tommyhawkins said,

    February 26, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    They’re doing it again:

    “Cannabis worth £1m seized at port

    By Jennifer Cockerell, Press Association

    Thursday, 26 February 2009

    Cannabis with an estimated street value of £1 million was found in a lorry coming into the country on a ferry, the UK Border Agency said today.

    During routine checks on unaccompanied freight arrivals at Ramsgate, Kent, customs officers seized an estimated 500kgs of cannabis resin from a vehicle which had arrived on a ferry from Ostend, Belgium.

    The drugs were discovered within a mixed load on Tuesday and were manifested as a generator.

    The concealment consisted of a large red box containing eight live car batteries wired so as to provide an electrical charge. Beneath the batteries was a quantity of sand and the cannabis resin was hidden under the sand.

    The case has been passed to HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) criminal investigators and enquiries are ongoing.

    Bob Gaiger, HMRC spokesman for south-east England, said: “HMRC investigators and their UK Border Agency colleagues work closely to prevent drugs from entering the UK and harming our communities.

    “Our investigations will not only focus on those transporting these deadly drugs, but also those who mastermind and finance this illegal activity.

    “Anyone with information about illegal smuggling activities should call the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

    500 Kilos = 50,000 grams

    an eighth is approx 3.5 grams

    50,000/3.5 = 142,857 [eighths]

    People used to buy it for £5 an eighth of resin when i went to college 9 years ago, but I remember reading reports about the price being much less, as far as i know it went down to about £3ish.

    So:
    142,857[eighths] x 5 = £714,285 much less than one million pounds the report states.

    and if im correct if it has a street value of £3.50 per eighth then:

    142,857 x 3.5 = £500,000

    on the basis that the resin was sold as individual eighths, which of course never happens, as with any product people buy in bulk to save money. Which would bring the final street value down even further.

    Sadly it’s hard to research the street values as I dont do it myself so slightly shaky sources, but I think the point remains the same

  56. mikewhit said,

    February 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    We consume tons and tons of heroin every year Hey – less of the We

  57. mikewhit said,

    February 26, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Is there any evidence that the repeated media use of the “street value” figures in some way lead some people to think it’s an exciting/flashy world of drugs to get into ?

    I think they should just stick to the mass/quantity.

  58. mobfant said,

    February 27, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I think £50m refers to the street value of how much heroin could be produced with the chemicals discovered. So destroying the chemicals stops potentially £50m of heroin being produced.

  59. thepoisongarden said,

    February 27, 2009 at 9:33 am

    This has been very fully covered in Ben’s piece and the comments here and elswhere but I don’t think mobfant’s comment can be left unchallenged.

    The very most the opium seized would have been worth is £13m (actually, new thought, it’s less than that because no allowance has been made for seizures once it got out of Afghanistan) so £50m is an number dreamt up by the MOD to make sure the story gave them good PR.

  60. Everytimereferee said,

    February 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    mobfant,

    After everything that has been written here, that’s the conclusion you came to?

  61. 10channel said,

    February 28, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I do not trust most of the media in knowing what goes on in the war at all. Does the media even know about the various groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, their connections and sympathies with each other, the military and intelligence forces, and the Northwest Frontier?

    By the way, I thought that, when the Taliban was in power, they have almost completely suppressed the growing of opium. Is this true?

    Surely the Taliban does not control all the opium profits in Afghanistan, and surely the Taliban has means of income other than opium?

  62. as703 said,

    March 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    @ tommyhawkins

    Slight error in your maths:

    1kg = 1000g
    therefore 500kg = 500 000g
    therefore 1g of resin = £2
    therefore an eighth = £7

    An eighth is typically £10 in London (if bought singly; £7 accounts for the bulk buy discount), if you know someone who can do it for £3 please pass on their details…

  63. wayscj said,

    November 21, 2009 at 6:16 am

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  64. CUtech said,

    July 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    #5 poisongarden:
    FromTazmania, you can tell by the footprints left by the little devils…

  65. CUtech said,

    July 29, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Probably not the right place to post this but I’m getting:
    Error 324 (net::ERR_EMPTY_RESPONSE): Unknown error.
    On the response page after posting (as well as the page after registration).