Drug Control:

U.S. Heroin Program Encounters Many Obstacles in Southeast Asia

NSIAD-96-83: Published: Mar 1, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed U.S. efforts to prevent heroin trafficking, focusing on the: (1) extent to which heroin poses a threat to the United States; (2) impediments to heroin control efforts in Southeast Asia; and (3) United Nations Drug Control Program's (UNDCP) effectiveness in Burma.

GAO found that: (1) while heroin is not the primary illegal narcotic in use in the United States, heroin production, trafficking, and consumption are growing threats; (2) since the late 1980s, worldwide production of opium has nearly doubled, and U.S. emergency room episodes resulting from heroin overdoses have increased by 50 percent; (3) although U.S. heroin control programs in Southeast Asian countries other than Burma have had some limited success, U.S. efforts have not reduced the flow of heroin from the region because producers and traffickers shift transportation routes and growing areas into countries with inadequate law enforcement capability or political will; (4) in 1994, Burma accounted for about 87 percent of the opium cultivated in Southeast Asia and approximately 94 percent of the opium production in the region, thus, a key to stopping the flow of heroin from Southeast Asia is addressing opium production in Burma; and (5) there are several reasons why achieving this objective will be difficult: (a) since 1988, the U.S. has not provided eradication assistance to the Burmese government because it violently suppressed a pro-democracy movement, began establishing a record of human rights abuses, and refused to recognize the results of national elections in 1990 that removed the military government from power; (b) because of the complex Burmese political environment, U.S. assistance is unlikely to be effective until the Burmese government demonstrates improvement in its democracy and human rights policies and proves its legitimacy to ethnic minority groups in opium-producing areas; (c) the Burmese government is unable or unwilling to make a serious commitment to ending the lucrative drug trade and is unlikely to gain the required political support to control most of the opium cultivation and heroin-trafficking areas within Burma; (d) while heroin control efforts in Thailand and Hong Kong have achieved some positive results, there has been little counternarcotics cooperation with China, where important regional drug-trafficking routes have recently emerged; and (e) UNDCP's crop control, alternative development, and demand reduction projects in Burma are too small in scale to significantly affect opium poppy cultivation and opium production levels.

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