Is Medicinal Opium Production Afghanistan's Answer?

Lessons from India and the World Market

Published In: Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, v. 2, no. 1, article 1, Nov. 2009

Posted on RAND.org on November 01, 2009

by Victoria A. Greenfield, Letizia Paoli, Peter Reuter

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Poverty and corruption are pervasive in Afghanistan and opium production is rampant, especially in the country's most insecure southern regions. Afghanistan's opium production now accounts for the overwhelming majority of the world's heroin supply. The International Council on Security and Development, a European think tank formerly known as the Senlis Council, is advocating a policy response that it refers to as "Poppy for Medicine." Under the Council's proposal, poppy farmers in Afghanistan would gain access to the world's legal pharmaceutical market through a two-tiered licensing program. A careful examination of India's experience as the world's sole licensed exporter of raw opium and of the world market for legal opiates casts serious doubt on this proposal. Legal medicinal opium production is an improbable answer for at least five reasons: first, illegal production will continue; second, diversion from the legal market to the illegal market is inevitable; third, diversion will involve further corruption; fourth, there may not be a market; and fifth, Afghanistan lacks the institutional capacity to support a legal pharmaceutical industry.

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