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Analysis: Afghanistan's Painkiller

Council on Foreign Relations

November 5, 2007
Prepared by: Toni Johnson

UN report (PDF) on drug enforcement shows Afghan opium production increased in 2006 by nearly 60 percent from the previous year. During the same time period, eradication of poppy fields increased 210 percent but still amounted to a mere 37,000 acres, affecting less than 10 percent of poppy production in 2006. Despite efforts by the United States and Britain to slow opium production through eradication and crop replacement schemes, opium from Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent (Telegraph) of the world's heroin.

A U.S. plan to step up use of an herbicide for poppy eradication is causing controversy. The Afghan government has concerns about the possible health impacts and is now studying (NYT) the problem. Opponents in Afghanistan fear mass eradication of the country's cash crop could alienate Afghan farmers and create a backlash (McClatchy) against Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who's already politically weak, according to EU and U.S. officials. Chemical fumigants are used extensively in South America to combat illegal drugs, often at the behest of Washington. But they have been criticized by political activists and environmental advocates for causing illness and killing legal crops. Opposition to such eradication policies helped Bolivian President Evo Morales rise to power (World Politics Review) with his pro-coca farmer stance and recently pitted U.S. ally Colombia against Ecuador's leftist regime. The Paris-based Senlis Council, an international think tank, argues that "extreme poverty and a lack of sustainable alternatives" in Afghanistan makes eradication an "ineffective as a counter-narcotics policy tool" and should be replaced (PDF) with a policy that licenses Afghan opium for "essential opium based medicine such as morphine."

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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