Intended for healthcare professionals


Opium production in Afghanistan

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 01 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:972
  1. Mark Malloch-Brown, minister of state for Africa, Asia, and the UN
  1. 1Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1A 2AH
  1. Stelios.Kyriakides{at}

Legalising production for medical usage is neither feasible nor desirable

The case for allowing Afghanistan to cultivate poppies to combat the alleged shortage of opiate medicines has been reported in the BMJ.1 Around 90% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan, and most of it is destined for the illicit market. Counter narcotics is at the heart of the United Kingdom’s involvement in Afghanistan, not just because it is a major source of finance for the Taliban, but also because of its impact on our streets and neighbourhoods. The UK has repeatedly considered legal poppy cultivation—the first time in a report by David Mansfield that was commissioned in 2001.2 The findings of the Mansfield report remain true today; unless the Afghan government can control the size of the crop, legal opium will supplement and not substitute illegal opium production.

The Afghan government lacks the necessary resources, institutional capacity, and control mechanisms to guarantee that opium is only purchased legally. Those cultivating …

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