California Faces Staggering Wave of Asian Opium

California Faces Staggering Wave of Asian Opium
Posted by FoM on September 09, 1999 at 21:47:07 PT
By Andrew Quinn 
Source: Reuters
After long battles against cocaine, heroin and marijuana, U.S. customs officials say California now faces the influx of an exotic new drug with roots deep in Southeast Asia: opium. 
Hundreds of pounds (kg) of Asian opium have been smuggled into California this year, ingeniously hidden in shipments of everything from dried mushrooms and herbal tea to wooden looms, rattan stools and drug-soaked clothing, U.S. Customs officials said on Thursday. At a news conference, they displayed dozens of packages of intercepted opium, announcing that a total of 1,188 pounds (540 kg) of the drug had been stopped at the Oakland, California, international mail facility this year. That is more than three times the total discovered for all of 1998 and 10 times the amount uncovered in 1995, the officials said. ``Never in the history of this facility have I seen so much opium in such large quantities in such a short period of time,'' said Jim Miller, chief of Customs' international mail branch in Oakland. ``It's staggering.'' Officials could offer little in the way of an explanation for the sudden jump in smuggled opium, which long has taken a back seat to more lucrative illegal trade in heroin, anabolic steroids and other contraband. But they noted that unlike other drugs such as crack and methamphetamines, opium seems to be aimed primarily at California's population of Laotian immigrants, who began arriving in the central San Joaquin Valley in the mid-1970s. ``It is part of their culture. But it is still a controlled substance and a prosecutable offence,'' Joycelen Favours-Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency's San Francisco office, told Reuters. ASIAN GANG CONNECTION SUSPECTED Four people have been arrested in California in connection with the opium-filled packages, and further investigations are pending. Officials declined to identify any of the suspects, but said it was believed they were connected with Asian gangs who peddle opium within their own communities. Customs agents said the flow of opium -- mostly in airmail packages sent from Laos to residents of California's central valley -- appeared relatively normal until June, when it began to spike sharply. Over the past three months, a total of 88 separate mail shipments of opium were uncovered with a combined total weight of 923 pounds (420 kg) and a total street value of almost $8 million. Officials at the DEA said that even with shipments of hundreds of pounds (kg) of opium, it was extremely unlikely that the drug was intended to be transformed into anything stronger, such as heroin. ``It takes a large amount of opium to convert into heroin, so it is not cost-effective,'' Favours-Barnes said. ``This type of stuff is mostly for use within the Laotian community.'' Nevertheless, Thomas O'Brien, the customs service assistant port director for trade operations, said the summer influx of opium represented an ``unprecedented flood of illegal contraband into the United States.'' ``Taken as a whole, this would be one of the largest (opium seizures) ever made,'' O'Brien said. 08:53 p.m Sep 09, 1999 Eastern Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
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Comment #4 posted by John Blaze on August 23, 2001 at 20:14:00 PT:
war on drugs
 I will keep my comments short an dto the point.The war on drugs is a war which can never be won.This is because it is a war by the government against it's own people.Politicians use rhetoric and scare tactics to further brain wash naive people who have never experienced drug use,such as smoking marijuana.These people clump all drugs together in one category...dope..with no distinction made between non-addictive drugs like marijuana and psilocibin mushrooms and addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin.The United States should look to the Dutch for ideas on drug policy.In close i would like to say it is a terrible travesty of justice when a person who grows a few marijauna plants is sentenced to prison for twice or three times longer than those commiting murder or rape..these things have the naive people out ther who support the draconian drug war..think about that for a just might be your son or daughetr going to prison for smoking marijuana.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on September 10, 1999 at 10:20:29 PT:
Related Article
Authorities Seize 923 Pounds of Cleverly Concealed Opium in Oakland Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff WriterFriday, September 10, 1999 1999 San Francisco Chronicle URL: opium was found inside almost everything, from tool parts and rattan stool frames to hollowed-out chopping boards and cans of curry paste. All told, some 923 pounds of the drug -- valued at $7.9 million -- were expertly hidden in 88 packages sent since June to the U.S. Postal Service's mail facility in Oakland, the largest postal center on the West Coast. Despite the handiwork, the U.S. Customs Service intercepted the shipments, which were mailed from Laos and Thailand and destined for points throughout California and Washington. At a news conference in Oakland yesterday, customs and postal officials displayed some of the confiscated opium and announced the arrests of four people who were to receive the shipments. Even as the officials spoke, inspectors seized another package containing 15 pounds of the reddish-brown drug. Authorities grudgingly admitted that the opium, made from the juice of the opium poppy, was well-camouflaged in some of the most unlikely places. Among other things, it was hidden in wooden looms and buttons, soaked into bags of wood chips and clothing and wrapped in packages of tea and herbal medicine. ``It's really phenomenal the lengths they went to secrete the narcotics,'' said Thomas O'Brien, assistant port director of trade operations for the Customs Service. ``They're very innovative,'' agreed Wayne Yamashita, a Customs Service assistant special agent in charge. ``Once we seem to catch onto one particular mode of smuggling, they'll switch to something else.'' The 923 pounds seized is a significant amount, ``given the fact that in many years we don't seize that much in an entire 12-month period,'' Yamashita said. So far this year, customs officials have seized 1,188 pounds of opium at the Oakland mail facility, compared with 363 pounds in 1998 and 175 pounds in 1997. One pound of opium is worth nearly $9,000 on the street. The Postal Service sends all incoming foreign mail shipments to the Customs Service for examination. Once suspicious packages are weeded out, customs officials try to identify who ordered and who planned to receive the shipments. Arrested during the investigation were Mai Vang, 25, of Merced; Weun Saelee, 43, of Redding; Vern Saetern, 46, of West Sacramento; and Farm Saetern, 44, of West Sacramento. All face a state charge of possession of opium for sale. 1999 San Francisco Chronicle  Page A18 
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on September 10, 1999 at 07:12:39 PT
Years ago when I was young I read an article on Opium and how it saved people's lives after Vietnam was ending and the Communists let red rain out of planes, as the article called it in Readers Digest. The only ones that survived the red rain were those, who when they saw the planes coming, and letting this poison out on them to exterminate them, went to their huts and started smoking Opium. It prevented mass dehydration so to me in this case Opium was a life saver and I'll never forget that article as long as I live.
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Comment #1 posted by Kimmo Sundqvist on September 10, 1999 at 03:07:05 PT:
To anything more stronger...
There's said that a hundred kilos of opium wouldn't be converted into heroin, which is nice. Then there's said it's part of someone's culture and I think that's much more important than that it's controlled substance. First of all, you cannot overdose on opium like on heroin, since there are compounds in opium which prevent that by causing unpleasant effects and increasing drowsiness.Second, I learned from a book (Forbidden Game by Brian Inglis, online through that the destructiveness of drugs is mainly determined by the culture, not by the substance (although it plays a role too).Third, like the editor of the article, I'm amazed, since after opiates becoming illegal, trafficking shifted almost entirely to heroin, like it always does towards more concentrated and dangerous forms (the book has information on this too).My fourth point is to ask opinions, would legalizing opium decrease trafficking in heroin, and would legalizing coca do likewise to cocaine? I think it just might make the difference.
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