Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The War Against Opium Production

According to the World Health Organization, 100,000 people die globally on an annual basis as a result of illegal opium consumption.  And, right now, the world's major producer of opium poppies is the "narco-state" of Afghanistan.  A country at war with itself, but a peace with the production of opium.  The adversaries, the government of President Hamid Karzai, and the Islamist Taliban alike profit hugely from opium production.

And so do the farmers that grow poppies preferentially, rather than edible agricultural crops for human consumption.  And those too who live in the remote villages, along with urban dwellers who make the yearly harvest-time trip to help harvest those crops.  Parliamentarians, warlords, the national police and the military-security establishment all take their cut of the booming opium poppy harvest.

The country, all told, will be billions of profitable dollars wealthier as a result of that crop.  In Britain, 90% of the heroin on the streets emanates from Afghanistan.  In North America that number is roughly 50%.  NATO troops were once tasked with destroying the poppy crops.  But the eradication of those crops infuriated Afghans who grew them, and turned out to be extremely unpopular and was discontinued.

Attempts to persuade Afghan farmers to turn their fields back over to growing edible grains was a non-starter.  Persuasively, they made far more money growing opium poppies.  And in addition they claimed that the Taliban threatened them with death if they refused to grow poppies.  So poppies it was.  A reliable, valuable cash crop.

Production of the Afghan opium poppy is higher than what it had been before the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.  And it is growing even larger.  Afghanistan's production of poppies is a reflection of the struggle that is taking place in Mexico, in Colombia, against federal and civil authorities and their security agencies attempting to achieve some kind of control and eradication.  The ghastly violence seen in Mexico is a reflection of the failure of intervention.

There have been suggestions and recommendations for the legalization - and hence control - of drug production.  Once it is legalized, it can be controlled and once that occurs the profits made by violent criminals engaged in the drug trade would be undercut.  The world is experiencing a shortage of painkilling drugs, and this is the market that needs to be filled; the production of opioids for palliative care.

If poppy production were made legitimate under government control the shortage of morphine and codeine could be eliminated, and the illegal drug trade would be impacted.  In India the government accredits farmers to raise crops under state control, and the resulting opium is processed into painkillers.  Three-quarters of available opioids are utilized by Western industrialized countries, anxious for greater resources.

When a recommendation was made by the Senlis Council to buy Afghanistan's poppy crop, the suggestion was dismissed as unpalatable.  The very concept seems alien to the imagination of the West which seeks to destroy, not control such crops, despite there being an obvious use and desperate need for them as legal, painkilling medicines.

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