The United States “drug czar” says that Colombia’s record cocaine production levels are “unacceptable”
At a Wednesday press conference, director Jim Carroll of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reiterated claims that rising cocaine production levels in Colombia have been pushing a boom in cocaine use and cocaine-related deaths.
According to Carroll, first-time users in the U.S. increased 81% between 2013 and 2016. More than 10,000 Americans died of cocaine-related overdoses in 2016, according to the ONDCP’s latest annual report.
The increase in cocaine-related deaths coincides with an unprecedented drug crisis caused by excessive use of mind-altering substances in the United States. More than 60,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016 alone.
U.S.: Supply is pushing demand
The White House has blamed the increase in cocaine use of the past years to increased production of the drug’s primary ingredient, the coca leaf, in Colombia.
The United Nations, which monitors coca cultivation in the Andean region, is expected to announce next months that some 188,000 hectares were used to cultivate coca. According to Carroll, this could be as many as 209,000 hectares.
“Even though Colombian eradication efforts improved in 2017, they were outstripped by the acceleration in production,” Carroll said.
According to ONDCP estimates, Colombian drug traffickers produced 921 tons of cocaine for the 300 million people who cocaine consumers.
Illegal coca cultivation sustains more than 100,000 farming families and has long fueled illegal armed groups that brutally control much of the countryside.
Colombia’s speed date with liberal policies
Colombia’s outgoing president, Juan Manuel Santos, for years urged the international community to rethink counter-narcotics efforts, especially the US-led “War on Drugs” that celebrated 47 years last week.
According to Santos, consumption countries like the U.S. urgently needed to reconsider policies to reduce consumption while production countries needed economic development in the lawless areas where illicit drug production largely take place.
President-elect Ivan Duque, however, has shown little interest in following the advise of the United Nations and push rural development and crop substitution.
The new president is more in line with U.S. drug policy makers, returning to aggressive counter-narcotics operations that produce more displacement and violence than long-term results.