Report: Area in Mexico Dedicated to Poppy Cultivation Bigger Than DC; US Heroin Fatalities Set Record

By Mark Browne | June 29, 2017 | 2:02 AM EDT

An opium poppy plantation. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Poppy cultivation in Mexico covers an area larger than the District of Columbia, while worldwide opium production shot up by one-third in 2016, according to two recent U.N. studies.

Meanwhile, fatal heroin overdoses in the U.S. last year broke all previous records, the U.N.’s recently released World Drug Report 2017 found.

“Mostly driven by opioids, overdose deaths in the United States more than tripled during the period 1999-2015, from 16,849 to 52,404 annually,” the report said.

Deaths from overdoses in the U.S. “increased by 11.4 percent in the past year alone, to reach the highest level ever recorded.”

Inpatient opioid-related hospitalizations in the US skyrocketed by 64 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to a study by U.S. Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Released this month, the study found that emergency room visits related to opioids “nearly doubled” during the period.

Arkansas and Iowa had the lowest rates of opioid-related emergency room visits, while Maryland had the highest.

Last year, the Mexican government with assistance from the U.N. released the results of a first-ever survey of opium fields under cultivation in Mexico, using aerial photography and satellite images taken between 2014 and 2015.

It found a minimum of 21,500 hectares (83 square miles) and a maximum of 24,800 (95 square miles) under active cultivation. The District of Columbia is 68.3 square miles in area.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Lisa Sanchez, director of drug policy at the NGO Mexico United Against Crime.

“What we don’t know is what’s the average productivity of each square mile.”

The Mexican government promised to update the 2016 survey report this month with results for the past year, but no announcement has been made, Sanchez said.

She said aerial photos are not enough to really understand how much heroin is being produced in Mexico.

Interviews in the field are needed to determine the number of annual harvests and how many people are involved in the cultivation of poppies.

“There’s a lot of information we still don’t have.”

Mexico supplies more than 90 percent of all of the heroin that enters the U.S., according to William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

In a telephone briefing with reporters focused on the recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Brownfield said “90-94 percent of all heroin consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico.”

He estimated that between two and four percent originates in Colombia and between four and six percent in Afghanistan, according to a transcript of the call.

The Mexican government is now allowing the U.S. and the U.N. to observe the destruction of poppy fields in Mexico, Reuters reported.

The U.N. World Drug Report states at least 1,177 square miles of territory is dedicated to opium production worldwide – twice the amount of land being used to cultivate coca used to make cocaine.

Surveys of heroin production in Burma and Laos are lacking, so the worldwide total for land dedicated to opium cultivation could be higher, it warned.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo shows more than 26 pounds of heroin, found in the possession of a Mexican woman attempting to smuggle it into the U.S. at San Luis, Ariz. in April 2014. (Photo CBP)

The U.N. report cited improved opium crop yields in Afghanistan as the prime driver behind the increased opium production in 2016, but noted that worldwide production is still 20 percent lower than it was in 2014.

According to the report, the Taliban controls some 85 percent of all the territory used to produce opium in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, cocaine use is increasing in North America and Europe, the report found.

“The prevalence of use of cocaine among the general population and testing in the workforce suggest an increase in cocaine use in the United States.”

“In Europe, early signs of increases in cocaine consumption, based on wastewater analysis in selected cities, have been reported, with an increase of 30 percent or more during the period 2011-2016,” the report said.

At the same time, coca bush cultivation worldwide expanded by 30 percent from 2013-2015, “mainly as a result of increased cultivation in Colombia.”