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European Parliament backs Poppy for Medicine initiative in Afghanistan

25 October 2007

Europe should lead the way on effective Afghan counter-narcotics policies and move away from failed US-approach

Low-cost Afghan-made morphine can help unlock global pain crisis
Strasbourg – The European Parliament on Thursday recommended that Afghanistan’s poppy crop should be used to produce much-needed essential medicines such as morphine instead of being destroyed. The recommendation was tabled by Marco Cappato MEP and the ALDE group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and adopted by an overwhelming majority of 368 for and 49 against. The recommendation was based on a technical dossier for running pilot projects to test out the production of morphine in Afghanistan put forward by ICOS.

Immediately following the vote, ICOS’s Executive Director, Emmanuel Reinert, called on other European institutions to follow the European Parliament’s example in aiding the Afghan government implement more pragmatic approaches to counter-narcotics in the country. “It is about time that Europe’s significant financial commitment to Afghan counter-narcotics policies is met with more direct influence in helping the Afghan government bring about more effective policies,” said Reinert.

“Europe has a duty to help the Afghan government charter a new course for its counter-narcotics policies before the country becomes a narco-state. We have the potential to support Afghanistan’s political stability and lift Afghanistan out of its current quagmire. The European Parliament´s endorsement is an important first step in this regard.”

Drastic need to change US-led Afghan counter-narcotics policies

According to ICOS’s Director of Policy Research, Jorrit Kamminga, current US-led poppy crop eradication has been ineffective, counter-productive and could well give the Taliban the decisive advantage in their struggle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

“US-inspired and administered Afghan counter-narcotics policies have been a complete failure as opium production has now doubled in size in merely two years,” said Kamminga. “Not only has poppy crop eradication made stability and reconstruction near impossible in Afghanistan, it has turned the farmers into the arms of the Taliban because we are robbing them of their sole cash crop.

“The US is now putting pressure on the Afghan government to focus on even more aggressive eradication campaigns such as chemical spraying. Make no mistake, this would be disastrous for Afghanistan – hearts and minds would be lost forever and any chance of success in the country would disappear,” said Kamminga.

“Europe has to stand up to the United States on counter-narcotics issues. We must not forget that heroin coming from the illegal trade of opium in Afghanistan ends up mostly in Europe, not the United States,” he added.

Poppy for Medicine – unlocking Afghanistan’s poppy crisis

ICOS’s Poppy for Medicine proposal would see village-cultivated poppy transformed into morphine tablets in the rural communities of Afghanistan by bringing the important added value of the transformation of poppy into medicine at the local level. This would address the current world shortage of these pain-relieving medicines.

“Poppy for Medicine is tailored to the realities of Afghanistan,” said Reinert. “By linking the country’s two most valuable resources – poppy cultivation and strong local village control systems, the controlled cultivation of poppy for the local production of morphine can be secured.”

Just six wealthy countries, including the United States and Canada, use more than 80% of the world’s supplies of morphine medicines, while the developing countries that account for more than 80% of the world’s population use just 5%. The price difference is more than fourfold in continents like Latin America.

Afghan morphine – unlocking the global pain crisis

“Morphine is an essential recommendation by the World Health Organisation, particularly for pain associated with cancer and HIV/Aids,” said Reinert. “There is a huge global unmet need, particularly in developing countries where such illnesses are becoming more and more prevalent. With Afghanistan’s surfeit of the raw materials for morphine, it can have a huge role to play in addressing this global pain crisis.”

Morphine is especially important in palliative care, which is often associated with the relief of cancer pain. Up to 80 percent of patients in the last phases of cancer and HIV/AIDS illness experience significant pain requiring essential painkillers like morphine. In developing countries where patients are often diagnosed late in the course of illness, pain from the disease itself is more prevalent that treatment-related pain.

“Costs for commercially available opioids have time and time again been named as barriers by palliative care experts,” said Reinert. “Low-cost Afghan morphine with reliable quality would offer a unique opportunity to overcome this barrier.”

Click here for the complete text adopted by the European Parliament

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