Afghanistan, poppies, and the global pain crisis

Med Sci Monit. 2010 Mar;16(3):RA49-57.


The World Health Organization has reported that somewhere between 30-86 million people suffer from moderate to severe pain due to cancer, HIV/AIDS, burns, wounds and other illnesses annually and do not have access to proper opiate anesthetics to control the pain [1]. The vast majority of these people live in poor nations where medicinal opiates are either too expensive or not readily available. In this paper, it is argued that access to adequate healthcare is a human right and that adequate healthcare includes management of pain. The solution to this problem may be in Afghanistan, a country now overwhelmed with poverty and war. Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of heroin. The increase in heroin production in Afghanistan has caused the United States and the international community to begin to eradicate Afghanistan's poppy fields leading to increased poverty among poppy farmers. This paper proposed a paradigm that can be implemented in Afghanistan which would allow for Afghan farmers to continue growing their poppy crop for medicinal opiates like morphine for poor nations. The paradigm covers all parameters of medicinal opiates production including licensing, security, cultivation, harvest, and factory production of medicinal opiates. The paradigm proposed is less expensive than eradication, brings honest income to Afghan farmers and the new Afghan nation, and can eventually lead to Afghanistan acquiring a respectable role in the world community. In closing, a full ethical analysis of the paradigm is included to justify the arguments made in the paper.

MeSH terms

  • Afghanistan
  • Agriculture
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Licensure / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Opium / economics
  • Opium / therapeutic use
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Papaver / growth & development*


  • Opium