Prime Numbers: Doped


Oct 19, 2009

This commentary originally appeared in Foreign Policy on October 19, 2009.

How two plants wreak havoc on the countries that produce and consume them—and everyone in between.

The illicit drug trade is the ultimate value-added chain. As cocaine and heroin make their perilous journeys from the fields of Colombia and Afghanistan to markets in U.S. and European cities, each border crossed and each trafficker involved adds dollars to a price that jumps more than 10-fold en route, as buyers along the way add filler to boost their profits.

When an Afghan farmer sells his opium, he will earn only about $1,000 for the approximately 7 kg of dry opium that it takes to produce one pure kilogram of heroin—a final product that can fetch well over $100,000 on the streets of London. The economics of coca in Colombia are strikingly similar. There, farmers convert coca leaves into a paste before selling the product, often to guerillas who use the drug money to fund their insurgency....

Beau Kilmer is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. Peter Reuter is a professor in the School of Public Policy and criminology department at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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