With the Afghanistan withdrawal by the United States and the Taliban appearing to take over that country the world may be in for an epic change.
Of the list of these changes there is one that you will never read about until it is too late and that just happens to be how the entire U.S. healthcare system will be impacted.
Why the Afghanistan withdrawal will impact the U.S. healthcare system:
For the past 20 years the United States has occupied Afghanistan in some way. In these 20 years the U.S. had the ability to control what came in and out of the country and more specifically what was and wasn’t grown, which leads to the problem.
Within Afghanistan on average there are over 500,000 square miles of fields used specifically for the cultivation of poppies. This is about 400,000 football fields in size.
In fact, of the total world production of poppies Afghanistan is responsible for more than 80% of the supply.
The next closest country that cultivates poppies is Myanmar which has about 57,000 square miles of fields. Mexico is third worldwide with close to 46,000 square miles and rounding out the top in terms of production is Laos with about 8,700 square miles of poppy fields.
But how does poppy production impact the U.S. healthcare system:
In the United States of the top 10 most prescribed drugs written in 2020 the drug Hydrocodone, an opiate typically prescribed for pain-relief, came in 10th.
According to HCP Live, in 2013, there were over 127,859,000 prescriptions written for just this drug alone. The next closest pain-relief medication (opiate) prescribed in 2013 was Oxycodone at 32,962,000 prescriptions.
By 2017 the CDC reported that, thankfully, the total number of prescriptions for pain-relief (opiates) dropped significantly, but that there were still over 171,000,000 prescriptions written.
The reason why Afghanistan is important is very simple: every opiate that is manufactured for distribution has some form opium in it.
Please note that Hydrocodone is a synthetic drug that is partially human-made, but also is derived partly from opium according to MedMark Treatment Centers.
As for the manfucaturing of opium, well, that is where is Afghanistan comes into play. According to Drugs.com opium just happens to be “a highly addictive narcotic drug acquired in the dried latex form the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed pod”.
Yes, in order to manufacture the 10th most prescribed drug in the U.S. there needs to be a poppy. And the country the U.S. just withdrew from just happens to be the largest producer of this one ingredient.
The control is now sits squarely in the hands of the Taliban and its allies.
How big of problem may it be:
Putting aside the over 171 million opiate prescriptions filled annually within the United States there may be 2 other major issues that will have to be dealt with in the near future.
1) Medicare costs for seniors:
According to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “nearly 3 in 10 Medicare Part D beneficiaries (29 percent) received opioids in 2018”.
Currently there are just over 61 million people on Medicare. From the OIG’s own numbers this puts opiate users over the age of 65 who are on Medicare at roughly 17.6 million people.
If the Taliban decides to manipulate the price of the one ingredient that must be used to manufacture the medications that 17.6 million people are taking, the end result, historically, will be higher prescription drug costs.
The problem is that many of the seniors within the United States are having difficulty meeting the costs of their prescription drugs today.
Gallup, back in 2019, reported that roughly 7.2 million seniors were unable to pay for their medication and unfortunately drug costs in the last two years have not gone down at all either.
The impact on the U.S. healthcare system and even Medicare if there is a manipulation of poppy production will be catastrophic to seniors in the U.S..
Not only will costs increase, but the supply for medical procedures and treatment may vanish.
2) The illegal drug trade.
Though illegal drugs, are, illegal, there will still be ramifications now that the U.S. has no control of Afghanistan
According to the bastion of unbiased reporting and fact (/sarc), Wikipedia, “Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest produces more than 90% of illicit heroin globally, and more than 95% of the European supply”.
The good news in the illegal drugworld is that “most heroin consumed in the United States comes from poppies grown in Mexico” according Rand.org.
This good news may only be short lived in the near future though. If the Taliban or any of its allies, China and/or Russia, convince the Taliban to limit the access of poppies the cost of poppies will increase world wide.
There may come a point where the suppliers of poppies in Mexico decide to stop producing their inventory for heroin and instead produce them for the pharmaceutical industry instead.
From there the most likely scenario, as history tells us, would be an increase in the price of heroin coupled with the high probability of more violence in distributing this illegal drug as supply will dry up.
Historically, when the U.S. consumer demands something that is scarce and illegal all hell tends to break loose when supplying it. See Al Capone, prohibition, Chicago and alcohol.
The Afghanistan withdrawal will have a major impact on the world in many different ways, but when it comes to those in the United States it would appear that the impact will hit the healthcare system and the illegal drug world the hardest.
Hopefully, the Taliban and its allies never realize the power and control they now have over the U.S. and its consumers, but as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani pointed out long ago “hope is never a strategy”.