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Report Gives Green Light to Licensed Opium in Afghanistan to Provide Essential Medicines

26 September 2005

A Roadmap to Stability: Licensing Would Contribute to Ending the Afghan Drug Crisis

Would Create Economic Opportunities Across Afghanistan and Ease Global Shortage of Pain Relief Medicines

Next Phase of Study Announced:

- Will Explore Developing Special Afghan Brand of Medicine

- Report Recommends ‘Fast-Track’ Action to Establish Rule of Law

- Window of Opportunity Closing Soon With Drug Cartels in Position to Take Control, Report Says

KABUL– A new study released today by ICOS, a leading international drug policy think tank, gives the green light for licensed opium production in Afghanistan. The opium would be used to produce essential medicines such as morphine and codeine that could help the millions of people in developing countries are unnecessarily dying in pain because they don’t have access to these medicines.

The study concludes that such a plan would contribute to ending the Afghan drug crisis and would help bring stability to the country. Licensing would move poppy crops away from the illegal drug trade and into the legal economy.

“It’s a case of turning something bad into something good.” ICOS’s Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert said. “The current drug policy in Afghanistan has completely failed to control opium production and has undermined development and security efforts.”

A Unique Opportunity for Afghanistan

“This is a unique opportunity for Afghanistan to regain control over its future and its economic development,” said Gulalai Momand Deputy Country Director of ICOS, who is from Nangahar province. “Not only will a licensing system help rural farmers in Afghanistan by making them more self-sufficient, it will ease pressure on the Afghan government to provide alternatives to opium production. This study shows that this valuable natural resource can be used in a positive way that helps the world.”

A Road-Map to Stability

“Opium licensing is a road-map to stability,” said Reinert. He warned that the current policy of eradicating poppy crops, on which many farmers survive, threatens Afghanistan’s future peace and democracy after 25 years of conflict. “Eradication is counterproductive because it takes away farmers’ livelihoods without replacing them. Ultimately, they will lose faith in their government and would create the same situation that allowed the Taliban to take control in the past.”

The study concludes that a licensing system would help stabilize Afghanistan’s fragile democracy by providing Afghan farmers with a steady income and allowing Afghanistan to produce licensed opium for medical purposes. Despite eradication efforts, illegal opium production still accounts for approximately half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Right now, 100% of the opium produced in Afghanistan is turned to illegal drugs, which is sold on the streets of Europe, Asia and America.

Modelled on Similar Licensing Programmes

Similar opium licensing programs have been operating successfully in Australia, France, India and Turkey for the past few decades. In India, for example, an average of 130,000 farmers legally cultivate poppy each year.

When Turkey switched from illegal to licensed opium production, preferential trade agreements were signed with the US and the UN which required that the US purchase 80% of its raw opium from Turkey or India. The project was also partially financed and subsidized by the US and the UN.

The report recommends that the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) fully disclose the structure of the existing licensed opium market in order to globally assess the real needs for pain relief medicines worldwide.

A Worldwide Shortage of Pain Relief Medicines

According to the World Health Organization and the International Narcotics Control Board, there is a shortage of essential pain relief medications, particularly in the developing world. Currently only seven countries consume 77% of opium-based medicines – US, UK Spain, Italy, France; Australia and Japan. Toronto University, who worked on the report, found that only 24 percent of moderate to severe pain relief is met even in these countries. Many developing countries, including Afghanistan, have little or no access to these medicines.

“It is a tragic irony that the country which produces the most opium in the world has no access to these vital medicines,” said Reinert.

Phase Two: Afghanistan’s own Brand of Medicine

The Council announced its plans for Phase Two of the Study, which will include exploring the possibilities of an agreement between interested countries giving Afghanistan its own brand of opium medicines and special international status for opium production.

“To respond to Afghanistan’s exceptional circumstances, special preferential trade agreements with large potential markets in Europe and Asia must be pursued,” said Reinert.

The Council said that Phase Two would also include research on possible amnesty provisions to integrate stakeholders into the legal system.

A Strong Demand for Illegal Drugs Obligates the International Community

“Due to consumption demand in countries outside Afghanistan, the international community has an obligation to develop and support initiatives that empower Afghanistan,” said Reinert.

The Council said that local and traditional governments and control mechanisms will be fully consulted to define the role they could play in opium licensing system.

ICOS commissioned and coordinated the study with experts from major international universities and institutions: The Universities of Toronto, Calgary, Lisbon, Ghent, Wageningen, Kabul and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law all participated in the Report.

The report recommendations include:

1 – Develop a ‘Fast Track System’ for controlled licensing of opium production in Afghanistan.
2 – Determine the best varieties of poppy for the implementation of a controlled opium industry in Afghanistan.
3 – Build a ‘value-chain’ that benefits Afghan farmers and provides both business opportunities and Government revenue for Afghanistan.
4 – Investigate special market access and branding possibilities for Afghan morphine and codeine.
5 – Explore preferential trade agreements between Afghanistan and target export countries based on the U.S. special trade agreements that already exist with India and Turkey.
6 – Establish strong control systems to prevent diversion through local Afghan legal systems.
7 – Integrate opium economy stakeholders into development through amnesty provisions.
8 – Develop proper and fair guidelines for selecting farmers and fields for opium production.
9 – Request that the International Narcotics Control Board fully disclose the structure of existing licensed opium market players.
10 – Reorganise drug policy governance priorities in Afghanistan to put alternative livelihoods and development at the forefront, and avoid the increasing militarization of drug policy in Afghanistan.

The report concludes

1 – There is a massive global shortage of opium-based medicines.
2 – The legal basis exists for a ‘Fast-Track System’ for licensed opium in Afghanistan.
3 – A licensing program would benefit Afghan farmers and would potentially there are wide-ranging benefits of a licensing program.
4 – A strong control system will prevent diversion of opium to the illicit heroin trade.
5 – The possibility exists to develop a special Afghan brand of morphine and codeine that could be promoted through preferential trade agreements, similar to how existing U.S. agreements with other opium producing countries.

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