A poppy field in the mountains. -- Photo UNODC
A poppy field in the mountains. — Photo UNODC
More than 2,000 former opium users in the northern province of Phongsaly are once again growing the crop and have resumed their habit.

Almost every day a large number of former opium smokers are returning to this unhealthy practice.

Chief of the provincial Drug Control Office, Mr Paoly Mounnaseng, told the Vientiane Times on Tuesday that they understood and reluctantly accepted the situation as there was little alternative work for people in this area.

“I began seeing the poppy growers and opium smokers return in 2009, after the detoxification centres and the projects to create alternative jobs left the province,” he said.

In 2002, there were 6,092 registered opium addicts in the province which made it the highest opium consumer in the country.

But before the government declared the country free of opium in 2006, almost all the drug users had been detoxified.

In 1998 there were almost 27,000 hectares under opium poppy cultivation, but only 1,500 hectares were said to remain throughout the country when Laos declared itself to be virtually free of the crop. But by 2012 poppy growers were once again cultivating the crop on up to 6,800 hectares i n six provinces of northern Laos.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the province with the largest area under cultivation was Phongsaly, with Huaphan in second place.