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Feasibility Study Could Address Shortage of Pain Medication in Developing Countries

20 July 2005

Afghan Opium Should be Used to Treat Pain, Think Tank Urged at House of Commons High-Level Meeting Wednesday

Think Tank Proposal Could Address Shortage of Pain Medication in Developing Countries While Giving Afghanistan a Legal Income

United Kingdom is Major Stakeholder in Afghanistan Reconstruction
LONDON– ICOS, a leading international drug-policy think tank, today presented its Feasibility Study for granting Afghanistan with a licence to cultivate opium for the production of essential medicines such as morphine and codeine at a meeting on Wednesday at the House of Commons. The group said that the proposal would provide a solution to the skyrocketing amount of opium from Afghanistan that ultimately ends up as illegal heroin on the streets of Europe and elsewhere. The large amounts of opium produced in Afghanistan could instead be used to address the world wide shortage of opium-based pain relief which has been documented by World Health Organisation and the International Narcotics Control Board. Mr Raymond Kendall, Honorary Secretary General of Interpol and Sir Keith Morris, former British Ambassador to Colombia were present at the meeting speaking in favour of this proposal.

The meeting comes at a moment when Afghan President Hamid Karzai is on a two day stop in London for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that are likely to focus on tackling Afghanistan’s drug trade.

“Solving the opium production crisis is the key to a stable and secure Afghanistan,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “Accounting for 60% of the county’s GDP, the opium trade is now responsible for the impasse in which Afghanistan finds itself. A licensing system would break the vicious circle of the drug economy in Afghanistan.”

Licences to produce opium for medical purposes are granted to countries by the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). Australia, India, France, Turkey and Spain all legally produce opium under an INCB licence.

Licensing Would Shift Opium Trade from Illegal to Legal System

The Council said that a licensing system would shift the Afghan opium trade away from the county’s illegal economy and into a legal system controlled by and benefiting the state. This would reinforce the state and the rule of law.

“A licensing system could be a unique opportunity for the Afghan Government to rise to the country’s opium challenge,” said Mr Raymond Kendall, Honorary Secretary General of Interpol. “Acquiring a licence to produce regulated opium for medical purposes could help Afghanistan in its reconstruction by giving it a legitimate income source.”

“Afghanistan’s opium production today is controlled in its entirety by traffickers and drug lords,” Reinert said.

Current Strategies of Crop Eradication and Alternative Development Failing

The Council said that current counter narcotics strategies being used in Afghanistan since 2001- crop eradication and alternative development – are clearly not working, with opium production on the rise.

As Ambassador to Colombia I witnessed the way crop eradication and the militarized war on drugs approach to the drug issue fuelled internal conflict,” said Sir Keith Morris, Former British Ambassador to Colombia. “In Afghanistan, where opium is much more important to the economy than cocaine is in Colombia, the effects would be even more damaging and could create high levels of insecurity in the region.”

“Eradication is counterproductive in that it would produce significant structural, political and economic damage to Afghanistan in that it would impede the development of the rule of law,” said Reinert. “Should farmers become disillusioned with their new government and its actions, and instead turn to local warlords for support and protection; the national identity for which the new government is laying the foundations will never reach fruition. Without the establishment of the rule of law, Afghanistan is laid open to a state of lawlessness.”

A recent World Bank report experts noted that eradication strategies would lead to a ‘poppy shock’, i.e. creating a huge economic hole without replacing it by sustainable, alternative economic solutions.

“The aim of implementing a licensing framework would be to consolidate the development process by providing a transitional tool that compliments alternative development initiatives,” said Reinert.

The Council said that this would facilitate the eventual conversion of the agriculture economy towards a sustainable and diversified system, providing a relatively rapid response to the current crisis situation in Afghanistan.

Top Universities Involved in Feasibility Study

Experts from the Universities of Toronto, Calgary, Lisbon, Ghent and Kabul currently working with ICOS on a Feasibility Study for licensing Afghan Opium production.. The preliminary results from this study will be released at an international Conference in Kabul in September. The study includes monitored pilot projects where a licensing system will be tested out over the next few months.

World Health Organisation Considers Opium-Based Pain Killers Vital in Treating Extreme Pain: Opium-based pain killers such as morphine and codeine, the most effective pain killers available, are used regularly in rich countries to treat chronic pain resulting from cancer, AIDS and other conditions with painful symptoms. But there are many developing countries, including Afghanistan, which have no access at all to these vital medicines.

The International Narcotics Control Board has stated that only 6 countries use 80% of the world’s supply of opium-based pain killers, whilst 80% of the world’s population has little or no access to them at all.

Using data collected and analysed by the University of Toronto, ICOS has estimated that currently only 24 per cent of moderate to severe palliative need is being met worldwide through current licensed opium production levels. The WHO has predicted there will be an annual 10 million cases of cancer in developing countries by 2015. HIV/AIDS is also contributing to this shortage, with over 37 million of the world’s 39 million people with HIV/AIDS living in the developing world.

U.K. is Major Stakeholder in Afghanistan Reconstruction

The United Kingdom is a major stakeholder in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and in the country’s counter-narcotics strategies. It has pledged £500 million for 2002- 2007, £55 million on counter-narcotics activities for 2005 alone, and £70 million on alternative livelihood programmes for 2005/2006, making the UK the second biggest donor nation, after the America.

“Given that all else has failed, it is important that we keep an open mind about alternatives – and this might just provide a way forward,” said Mr Chris Mullin MP.

Afghanistan produced 4200 metric tonnes of opium in 2004 and supplies 87% of the world’s illicit opium and 90% of Europe’s heroin. In Britain, Afghan heroin accounts for 95% of the market.

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