Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Afghan Opium production

Let a Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom is the title of an Op-Ed in today's New York Times. It addresses two problems:
  1. Opium production in Afghanistan has increased seven-fold since 2002, and accounts for 60% of Afghaninstan's GDP. The writer thinks that eradication programs are unlikely to reverse this. For example, "Cocaine continues to be widely available, despite the roughly $3 billion that the United States has spent on coca eradication in Colombia over the last five years."

  2. There is a lack of availability of medication to treat severe pain. There is some undermedication in the United States, but the major problem is in the third world. The prices of patented prescription opiates such as OxyContin are prohibitive for many patients.

The proposed solution is to use Afghan opium to manufacture morphine and codeine. The writer thinks that this would turn a profit, but even if subsidies were needed to make this viable, it would be a bargain. Afghan farmers are producing $600 million of opium per year, and the United States is planning to spend $780 millon on eradication this year.

The article doesn't go into great detail on the ramifications of this proposal for Afghanistan. Attempting to eliminate 60% of Afghanistan's economy, which is our current policy, cannot be good for Afghanistan's future. The proposal will weaken the warlords, who currently capture much of the profit from illegal drug sales. On the other hand, "Warlords would not relinquish profits without a fight, and their attempts to undermine the proposal could be formidable." It is also not clear how easy it would be to ensure that all opium produced in Afghanistan would go to legal uses rather than being diverted for the production of heroin, but of course currently all opium being produced in Afghanistan is being used to produce heroin.

The article is based on a feasibility study currently being conducted by the Senlis Council.


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