Friday, December 15, 2006

The two sides of opium

Afghanistan has a booming opium trade, which has increased seven-fold since 2002 and supplies an estimated 90 percent of the world's illegal heroin. Much of this goes to (or through) nearby Pakistan where injecting drug use is a main concern and HIV prevalence is rising. Recently, Pakistan's Health Minister expressed frustration at the Afghan government for not moving more effectively towards poppy eradication. The US eradication efforts since entering in 2002 have also been largely ineffective.

The WHO raises different concerns about Afghanistan's opium production: that it does not reach enough people worldwide for pain relieving purposes, causing a "world pain crisis". Opium is also the raw material for morphine. Developing countries as a whole only consume 6 percent of medical opioids yet by 2015 may have 10 million cancer cases. In the US, half of those suffering from chronic pain-most commonly AIDS and cancer patients-do not receive adequate pain relief. Pain relief worldwide is not only distributed unequally, but altogether insufficiently.

The Security and Development Policy Group (Senlis Council ), an international policy think tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels, has argued that the answer to Afghanistan's illegal drug trade is not poppy eradication, which: 1) deprives local farmers of a major source of income; 2) contributes further to the inadequacy of global pain relief; and 3) most likely will not eliminate the drug trade. Instead, it argues that the International Narcotics Control Board(INCB) license growing in Afghanistan. It is estimated that the price of buying the entire Afghan poppy crop would cost less than what the US is spending on eradication campaigns that have not worked.

The INCB's main function is to mediate exactly the dilemma that is presented in Afghanistan: balancing the medical needs of opioids while controlling illegal trafficking. The INCB has sent multiple missions to Afghanistan. They’ll outline their recommendations in their upcoming Annual Report to be released in February.

What will it say? Will it address only trafficking or also the need for more access to legal opiods?

Stay tuned.

Read more:
“There's a way to end Afghanistan's and the world's pain”

“Afghan drugs a worry as Pakistanis confront AIDS”

“Let a Thousand Poppies Bloom”

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