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Debate Over Afghan Opium Medicalization Coming to Washington

Submitted by smorgan on
The pressure to medicalize poppy cultivation in Afghanistan won't go away. The idea continues to find new proponents because it sounds considerably less absurd than asking Afghan families to give up on feeding themselves.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

After a year of escalating Afghan heroin production, calls are mounting for a shift in U.S. policy aimed at turning Afghanistan's poppy into an economic asset by using it to produce medicinal painkillers.

Backers of the proposal include several leading scientists and economists, as well as some in Congress.

"You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," [Rep. Russ] Carnahan said Thursday. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Congratulations, Russ Carnahan! You solved the riddle. Extra points if you can dumb this down enough to explain it to the drug policy experts at the State Department.

Tom Schweich, a senior State Department official who is spearheading U.S. efforts to curb Afghan narcotics, said he welcomed "creative ideas" but found this one to be unrealistic.

He said Afghan farmers wouldn't have enough economic incentive to turn away from illegal poppy cultivation. He added that Afghanistan lacks the required business infrastructure for processing, manufacturing and distribution, and that the oversight needed to prevent illicit drug trafficking would be near impossible.

Ok, we're listening. Yes, it's complicated situation. So what do you propose?

"You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Darn, he blew it. For a second there I thought he understood something.

Schweich rattles off a list of reasons why eradication won't work and then, like some sort of involuntary reflex, spontaneously proposes eradication. He sees all the reasons eradication won't work, but he cites them as arguments against Carnahan's plan rather than his own. Such rank incompetence might be funny if the fate of a nation weren't hanging in the balance.

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