Tags: Australia | Poppies | Painkiller | Drugs

Australia Urged to Grow More Poppies for Painkiller Boom

By    |   Wednesday, 12 March 2014 01:15 PM

Pharmaceutical companies are pressing Australia to expand poppy production amid surging demand for painkillers.

Opium poppies provide common pain relief ingredients, such as morphine and codeine, but are also used for illicit drugs, such as heroin. The United Nations restricts commercial production of these narcotic plants to a few countries, including Australia.

Australia currently confines poppy crops to the island of Tasmania.

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“There is increasing demand for pain relief drugs as the global middle classes expand,” Jarrod Ritchie, chief executive of TPI Enterprises, tells the Financial Times. “But there is a limit on the available land in Tasmania for growing,” he notes.

“We've recently suffered drought and storms in Tasmania and we just can't get enough crops. The existing monopoly situation is damaging the industry,” Ritchie said.

Rick Rockliff, operations manager for Johnson and Johnson's Tas Alkaloids, told Australia's ABC News that clients are also worried about the location risks.

“They are saying you can have agricultural disasters, what can you do to alleviate that, because we are so dependent on you, and we really think you should have a strategy to grow some in another area,” he said.

To address the problems, pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to push production to mainland Australia. GlaxoSmithKline is already testing trial plots in Victoria, and the state is expected to decriminalize poppy crops in upcoming weeks, reports the FT.

If Australia doesn't expand production, pharmaceutical companies warn the country risks losing its status in painkiller market.

The FT says U.N. figures show pain relief demand more than tripled between 1993 and 2012, jumping to about 14 billion daily doses. Australia reportedly has a 49 percent market share.

Victoria's Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh told ABC that they have fast-tracked getting the regulatory regime through the Parliament and are hoping to start commercial poppy production this winter.

But the Tasmanian poppy industry is opposed to the expansion. Farmers rake in $120 million a year growing the narcotic plants, but they warn the problems with crops on the mainland are bigger than the risks to their market share.

Poppy crops were originally restricted to Tasmania to keep the plants, and their dangers, away from the masses. Tasmanian officials warn that the risks have not faded with time.

Glynn Williams of Tasmania's Poppy Association says from a security point of view, Tasmania is ideal for raising poppies. The island has one of the most settled populations second to Iceland in terms of its stability, and a median age which is approaching 42, he notes.

“We have a very law abiding state, crime is actually falling and interferences with the drug are falling, you introduce a narcotic drug into another place in a big rush then you could have all sorts of unfortunate consequences,” he told ABC.

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Pharmaceutical companies are pressing Australia to expand poppy production amid surging demand for painkillers.
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 01:15 PM
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