Italian Red Cross, think-tank launch campaign for use of Afghan opium to make painkillers …

From: “Associated Press”; “Herald Tribune Europe”; “Dowjones Newswires” Rome18 september 2006
… for use of Afghan opium to make painkillers

The Italian Red Cross and other organizations launched a campaign Monday to promote the idea of licensing Afghanistan’s illegal opium production to make morphine. “This system we advocate provides for one part of the Afghan opium to be used to make legal morphine, rather than illegal heroin,” Massimo Barra, president of the Italian Red Cross told reporters in Rome. The campaign seeks to promote trade agreements with Afghanistan and stems from a study released last year by The Senlis Council – a European think-tank on drug policy — that examined the potential for licensing poppy cultivation in Afghanistan to provide legal, opium-based painkillers.

The transforming of illegal poppy fields into legal ones would “reduce the importance of illegal practices in Afghanistan and would address the pain crisis in developing countries,” where opium-based painkillers are needed to treat patients with cancer, AIDS and other diseases, Barra said. The Afghan Red Crescent also is pushing the effort. Legal, licensed opium production currently takes place in a number of countries, including India and the Australian island of Tasmania. Opium production in Afghanistan – centered predominantly in Helmand and Kandahar – has boomed since the fall of Taliban in 2001.

The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual survey of Afghanistan’s poppy crop in Kabul earlier this month. It said opium cultivation rose 59 percent this year to produce a record 6,100 tons of opium – a massive 92 percent of total world supply. The U.N. agency said only six of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are opium-free. It said some 2.9 million people were involved in growing opium, representing 12.6 percent of the total Afghan population, and that revenue from this year’s harvest was predicted to be over US$3 billion (euro2.4 billion). Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of The Senlis Council, said that eradication to stop illegal opium production has proved largely ineffective and counterproductive, as many farmers depend on it for their livelihood. “Farmers right now do not have a choice; if they could, they’d want to do the right thing,” he said, adding that it would not be difficult to pay licensed fanners the equivalent of their net income from illegal cultivation. “The farmers will have the same financial incentive,” Reinert said.

The think-tank and the Red Cross also announced the opening of a 50-bed hospital wing in an existing facility in Kabul, for the treatment of drug addicts. They said some 10 Afghan doctors, paramedics and other operators will be trained in Rome for a week.