Will Leaving Afghanistan affect American Pharmaceuticals?

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The United States has pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban has taken over as the controlling power. This will cause major changes for the Afghan people and has the potential to affect the United States too. One of the biggest changes, which you probably won’t hear about until it is too late, may be within the healthcare system of the United States.

While it may seem strange that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban could affect our healthcare, it is a very real possibility. Here’s why:

Afghanistan is one of the largest producers of poppy flowers. Poppy flowers are used to produce opium. Opium is used in the production of many pain-relieving medications such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. With the Taliban now controlling Afghanistan, the supply of poppies is in question. A shortage in poppies could cause the production of pain-relieving drugs to stumble causing their cost to increase. A cost that will likely be felt by the consumer.

While you now have an overview of the issue, if you want some of the numbers associated with it, read on.

Afghanistan’s Agriculture

For the past 20 years, the United States has had a presence in Afghanistan. In these 20 years the U.S. had the ability to control what came in and out of the country. They also had the ability to control what was grown. With the United States complete withdrawal, it has lost that control.

Within Afghanistan on average there are 500,000 square acres of fields used for the cultivation of poppies. This is about 400,000 football fields in size.

To give an idea of just how large Afghanistan’s poppy production is we’ll look at the closest competitors. The next closest country that cultivates poppies is Myanmar which has about 57,000 square acres of fields. Mexico is third worldwide with close to 46,000 square acres. And coming in forth is Laos with about 8,700 square acres of poppy fields.

The Need for Poppies

As stated previously, opium is used in the production of many medicinal drugs. According to Drugs.com opium is “a highly addictive narcotic drug acquired in the dried latex from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed pod.” In other words, in order to manufacture many of our drugs, we need poppies.

One such drug that uses opium in its production is Hydrocodone.

In the United States Hydrocodone was the 10th most prescribed drug of 2020. Hydrocodone is generally prescribed for pain-relief.

To give an idea of the enormity of this ranking, 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.

Fortunately, by 2017 the CDC reported that the number of total prescriptions for pain-relief (opiates) dropped significantly, but that there were still over 171,000,000 prescriptions written.

It is worth noting that, according to MedMark Treatment Centers, Hydrocodone is a synthetic drug that is partially human-made, but also is derived partly from opium.

In other words, to manufacture the 10th most prescribed drug in the U.S. there needs to be a poppy. As stated previously poppy is largely produced by Afghanistan.

The Takeaway

The United States is no longer in control of the world’s largest source of poppies (and by extension, opium). That control is now in the hands of the Taliban. The Taliban control combined with the Taliban’s friendly relations with China could spell disaster for the United States healthcare system. History and current events would lead us to believe that this could affect our drug production. It seems plausible that our supply of prescription medication will not be able to keep up with the demand. And when that happens, prices inevitably rise.

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