Minister voices Afghan opium fear
BBC News / Friday, 2 May 2008
Legalising production of opium in Afghanistan for medical use would be unworkable and fuel the drugs industry, a UK Foreign Office minister has said.
Lord Malloch Brown said Afghanistan lacked the infrastructure and resources to control crops.
Legalising crops could drive up prices and lead more farmers to grow opium, he told the British Medical Journal.
Doctors have suggested the opium, which contains morphine, could help plug NHS shortfalls of pain relief drugs.
Diamorphine, also known as heroin, is used to relieve pain after operations and for the terminally ill, but in recent years doctors have reported supply problems.
The British Medical Association and some Tories have suggested in the past that Afghan crops could be used to help boost supplies, arguing this would help meet demand and provide much-needed income for Afghans.
But Lord Malloch Brown said opium production in the country “fuels corruption and undermines the rule of law”.
And he added: “The Afghan government lacks the necessary resources, institutional capacity and control mechanisms to guarantee that opium is only purchased legally.
“Those cultivating and purchasing opium for medical usage would be in direct competition with illegal traffickers, which could drive up the price of opium and encourage increased cultivation.
“Farmers who do not currently grow poppies would abandon legal crops to meet the market’s demand.
“Ultimately, the area of land under poppy cultivation could increase. Quite simply, farmers would grow more to supply an additional purchaser.”
Instead, he said the government was focusing its efforts on creating the right conditions to tempt farmers away from opium production by working to establish good local government and economic incentives.
And the minister said countries such as Turkey and Australia, which were already established sources of legalised opium production, were best placed to meet demand.