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Afghan Opium Cultivation Rising, Officials Say

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #778)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Illicit opium poppy production cultivation in Afghanistan is on the increase this year, the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics said Monday. The increase comes despite efforts to target traffickers and to provide alternate development opportunities for farmers.

Afghan opium poppy fields bloom (UNODC)
Opium is the raw material from which heroin and other narcotics are derived.

Opium production has been a mainstay of the economy in the war-ravaged country ever since the US and NATO forces invaded in October 2001. Prior to the invasion, the Taliban had allowed poppy growing up until 2000, when a ban dramatically lowered production. But production took off again after the invasion, and for the past decade, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast bulk of global opium production, producing as much as 90% of the total supply.

Efforts to suppress opium production have been half-hearted and ineffective, in part because doing so threatens to drive poppy-producing peasants into the hands of the Taliban and in part because Afghan officials are themselves implicated in the trade.

Qayum Samir, a ministry spokesman, told Radio Free Europe Monday that 157,000 hectares are being planted with poppies this spring. That's up by an estimated 3,000 hectares over last year. Samir said the rise in production could be blamed on lack of security (read: lack of effective government control) and widespread poverty.

He said the Karzai government and the ministry have set up special task forces to eradicate opium plantings in four southern and southeastern provinces -- Farah, Helmand, Kandahar, and Nimruz. Those provinces are also areas where the Taliban is strong. Samir said task forces in other parts of the country would come later.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Opie O'Phile (not verified)

This is exactly why we must legalize heroin. We are currently funding both sides of this conflict in Afghanistan. Many people are uncomfortable with the notion that heroin should be sold like alcohol. Okay fine. at least lets offer heroin maintenance for the addicts like the Swiss do. Abstinence will never be acceptable to the majority of opiate users, and methadone doesn't work for everyone. Heroin maintenance would take away a lot of the profit from the black market. The UK also used to offer heroin maintenance, only a few people still get it today. It should be expanded.  


Heroin converts in the body to morphine, and morphine is relatively harmless. It is possible to overdose but some simple harm reduction steps and educational information could greatly reduce that risk. You can take heroin every day for your whole life and have no health problems. The "father of American surgery" William Halstead was a lifelong morphine addict and he had a long and distinguished career. Clearly it is possible to be an opiate addict and also a brilliant surgeon and pillar of the community. If Halstead was alive today would we throw him in jail? Maybe sentence him to a drug court for some coerced rehab? 

Tue, 04/02/2013 - 10:22pm Permalink
Paul Pot (not verified)

In reply to by Opie O'Phile (not verified)

Well said.

If drugs were properly legalized, people would be able to smoke opium resin which is very hard to OD from. 

And the farmers would have an income and they would be able to ask for help from the police for any reason without fear and the Taliban would just whither away and disappear. 

The drug war forced terrorism and violence on the world. 

Let's end the drug war.

Wed, 04/03/2013 - 2:12am Permalink
Opie O'Phile (not verified)

In reply to by Paul Pot (not verified)

You are correct regarding opium being more difficult to OD from. Smoking opium should be encouraged among people  who enjoy taking opiates from time to time (the "recreational" users) as these people often misjudge the strength of pharmaceutical opioids, or mix the pills with other CNS depressants (esp alcohol), and overdose. People have re-discovered the joys of opiates, so much so that we are experiencing an "epidemic" (as if opiates were infectious particles) of people using opiate drugs. I don't see how the genie can be put back in the bottle at this point, its either more prohibition (which we know doesn't work) or begin instituting some harm reduction to lessen the body count. Reintroducing the art of opium smoking may just be the answer to our problem of opioid overdose fatalities. 

For the regular users of opiates (the "addicts") smoking opium may or may not be acceptable. The main alkaloid in opium is morphine. For people who like morphine opium may work. Opium is around 10% morphine, for someone on a high dose, like 100's of milligrams of morphine, it would take a whole lot of opium smoking to inhale a single dose. Also opium is not morphine, there are other alkaloids that add to the experience. Not all users appreciate these effects. 

Opium must be prepared before smoked, it is rarely smoked "raw". One of the steps involves adding "dross" to the mix, the dross being the resin extracted from used opium pipes. To my knowledge there are no chemical analyses of dross, but it is probably loaded with morphine and is said to greatly add to the stupefying effect of smoked opium. Again, not all users appreciate this effect.

Others may need heroin (diamorphine), oxycodone (oxycontin) or hydromorphone (dilaudid) depending on their opioid of choice. For those as addicted to the needle as much as the drug, smoking opium will not be acceptable. The point is we should be trying all sorts of different maintenance regimes, no one system will work for everyone. Each regime should be tailored to the individual.  The actual medication doesn't matter, what matters is improving the lives of the addicts and the community at large. 

There is another point I didn't mention. The world is currently experiencing a morphine shortage. Afghan farmers should be contracted to grow medicinal opium, that is opium destined to make its way to a pharmaceutical firm for production of pharmaceutical opiate drugs. The farmers would not have to make any changes, but now the opium will make it to legit markets. This alone will not stop illicit heroin production, it will move elsewhere (the balloon effect). But at least Afghan Taliban will lose some of its revenue stream from opium production.

Wed, 04/03/2013 - 1:13pm Permalink
Thinking Clearly (not verified)

They work for American farming. The Government tells farmers what and how much to plant. We might as well buy the crop and cut out the competition - or does that step on too many CIA toes?

Wed, 04/03/2013 - 2:17am Permalink

excellent news. thanks to these opium farmers, somebodies life, somewhere in the world, is gonna be changed forever for the better today. id like to thank these opium farmers for their courageous work despite the dangerous risks they take flying in the face of this moral authority they try to reign upon us all.

Wed, 04/03/2013 - 11:00am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Yea , the heroin dealers out on the streets of D.C. are thankful for the U.S.A. military involvement in the opium fields of Afghanistan .  Is NATO trying to compete with South American heroin ? The proof is in the powder . You can`t sniff " tar " . 10 out of 10 Iranian heroin users agree that  Afghan heroin is the best .. .> U.S.A. military opium field observers/protector`s guarantee quality of product . >.>>.. You 18 ? want to travel the world ? Get college $$$ ? Join the war machine . Everything will be just fine . . . ..

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 7:13am Permalink
Jak (not verified)

The US isn't trying to profit from these drugs! Right?  C'mon, it's like that gunwalking thing they did in Mexico, except with opium.  Since we have the growers in our control(cough, cough) the CIA is trying to track the opium to the big distributors, in order to eliminate all the illegal drug trade.  But I have a few doubts, cause if it was like the gunwalking thing, then the amount of opium the CIA allowed to "walk" out of Afghanistan is quite a lot.  A bit irresponsible if it is what they did.

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 10:35pm Permalink
Ellin Callvis (not verified)

After being prescribed MORPHINE for 20 years by my Doctor, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons is telling my Doc to cut my dosage back. I am not getting a lot when considering I have been developing tolerance for 20 years - I get just 300 mgs per day but the College says thats too much.

 I have a chronic pain condition, it is relentless. My first morphine was prescribed by doctors, I had never tried any opiates before that - THEY got me addicted, and now THEY want to cut my dosage. What are they trying to achieve? I was started on it because I wanted to die - not that I was actively suicidal, I just thought about it a lot when the pains were bad. Opiates saved my sanity, maybe even my life.

 Why can't I choose how much of this sanity-saving drug I use? I am an adult, I have always been responsible with my prescription... The College policy is going to drive me to engage with criminals to get what I need.

 Legalise the Afghan poppy crop, let ME buy some of it. This could be a HUMAN RIGHTS issue. Cutting my dosage is akin to torture - the Nazi Germans DID use opiates as torture by getting prisoners addicted and then cutting them off - it was very effective, there is no pain like opiate withdrawals.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 2:07pm Permalink

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