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Opinion
Ricardo Castillo
Ricardo Castillo Opium Dreams The fact for now is that the illegal poppy flower cultivation will continue to be a reality
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Legalizing opium production in Mexico for medical purposes makes sense. The nation’s public health facilities, mainly Social Security and the general hospitals, are facing an extreme shortage of morphine and codeine which is forcing thousands, perhaps millions, of patients to live … and die in pain.

Former Secretary of Health and psychiatrist Juan Ramón de la Fuente also says that it is nearly impossible for a bona fide patient in pain to get an opioid prescription filled at drugstores, mostly because they are not available on the Mexican market.

Unfortunately, the legalization of poppy cultivation comes tainted with criminal behavior and it’s difficult to separate it from health-oriented objectives.

For instance, over the past few months Guerrero State Governor Hector Astudillo has been pleading with federal authorities to carry out motions that aim at making poppy cultivation legal. Gov. Astudillo is looking at this legalization from a social, not medical point of view, because within the five municipalities known in Guerrero for poppy cultivation, around half-a-million people live off the illegal cultivation trade. Their opium is sold to criminal gangs that “cook” it into what is known as “black tar” heroin to export it to the USA’s always thriving junkie market that produces an average of 1,200 deaths a day due to overdosing.

A further problem has been the diplomatic pressure imposed on Mexican authorities by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) through the U.S. Embassy. Over the years they have demanded that the heroin trade be stopped and they best way to do it is through a ruthless destruction of poppy plantations.

The result is that, according to the 2015 DEA Report, the number of hectares planted with the lovely flower has nearly gone twofold since 2008. Out of the approximately 17,000 hectares planted, 50 percent are in Guerrero. The other half is sown in “The Golden Triangle” in the Sierra Madre in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango.

Yet, Gov. Astudillo, and for that matter Mexican authorities at large, see that there is no other option than looking the other way, as destroying crops only brings more poverty to the near famine stricken area. Over 90 percent of Guerrero State farmers live off poppy cultivation.

But it is definitely not up to the Mexican government to legalize poppy cultivation, as this is a mandate only for the United Nations, which gives exclusive permission to Spain, Australia and France. These three nations fill up the entire supply for the legal opioids production market.

So allowing Mexico to grow poppy for medical opium paste is, for the meantime, not a feasibility, bringing us back to the question of what to do not only to stop the illegal trade, but also to supply the national pharmaceutical market with this staple medicine and keep raw opium out of the hands of heroin traffickers.

Yet, since the UN controls the legal market, opiate drug production is not profitable. But even then, the first problem the nation has to solve is meeting the needs of those in pain who could well use a prescribed dose of an opiate. Production of morphine and codeine, among other surgery room essential drugs, is imported, and at present Mexico’s buying is clearly insufficient, according to Health Secretariat figures.

But, since Mexico has a socialized medical system in place, the government could easily subsidize both production and processing of opium into different opiate drugs through available qualified Mexican labs that could bring in the technology needed for production. This could mean a path for some of the farmers to make a living, without living in fear both of soldiers and gangsters.

But Mexican self-sufficiency in curative opiates is an unlikely “maybe” for now and we can’t believe it until it’s legislated. This is indeed an opium dream.

The fact for now is that the illegal poppy flower cultivation will continue to be a reality and even fulfill the DEA’s fear that it will continue to grow in Mexico, as it most likely will.

This leaves us right where we are now: wondering aimlessly in an opium sea.

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