Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Opium-licensing scheme mooted


Vienna - Rather than eradicating opium crops in Afghanistan, the growing of opium should be regulated to manufacture medical drugs like morphine and codeine, which developing countries have limited access to, said an international think tank here on Wednesday.

"The United Nations and its agencies have clearly failed to control the production of opium poppy in Afghanistan," said Emmanuel Reinert, director general of the Senlis Council, an international security and development policy think tank.

"The policy of eradicating opium crops is counter-productive because it deprives Afghan farmers of their main source of income without proposing an alternative," he said.

"The farmers risk losing confidence in the government, which will create the same situation as the one that led the Taliban to power."

Stable income

According to Reinert, a licensing system for cultivating opium for the pharmaceutical market would strengthen Afghanistan's fragile democracy by offering farmers a stable income.

Poppy is already grown under a license in Australia, France, India and Turkey, Reinert said. In India, about 130 000 farmers grow opium poppy legally.

"We do not have enough poppy crops to produce the pain-relief drugs based on opium, morphine and codeine, needed around the world," said Reinert.

Seven countries - Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States - use 77% of opium-based drugs, whereas only 24% of treatments needed against pain are fulfilled, according to a University of Toronto study cited by the Senlis Council.

87% of world's opium

"Many developing countries, including Afghanistan, have limited access to these pharmaceutical products because of their price," said Reinert.

He added that Afghanistan should have its own brand of medical drugs based on opium and a special international status for producing opium.

Last year, Afghanistan produced 4 100 tons, or 87% of the world's opium, which could be used to make heroin, said the report.

It added that this illegal production, which accounted for at least a third of the country's economy, was responsible for almost all the heroin consumed in Europe.

According to the UN, Afghan farmers earn 10 times as much by producing opium than by growing traditional crops.


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