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Inside the Tasmanian Opium Industry

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If you've ever been to the emergency room with a broken bone, you may have been given morphine to dull the pain.

Of course, morphine comes from opium, which comes from poppies, which come from, largely, Afghanistan. But a significant portion of the morphine used by legit pharmaceutical companies comes from the Australian island of Tasmania.

GlaxoSmithKline, which maintains a large opium growing and processing facility in Port Fairy, Tasmania, is the granddaddy of legal smack. And apparently, Tasmania's economy is highly reliant on the poppy business:

A study from Australia's Launceston College reads:

"Most of Tasmania's exports are codeine, thebaine and other opiates. GlaxoKlineSmith exports to Port Fairy poppy straw which is processed to produce norphine, codeine and thebaine.

"The industry was introduced into Tasmania by Mr. Steven King in the late 1960's for MacFarlan Smith, a subsidiary of Glaxo, now GlaxoSmithKline."

In fact, this Steven King fellow (no, not this one) is so revered in Tasmania, there's even a monument dedicated to him:

Evidently, "Macfarlan Smith had been doing trial work in the UK aimed at establishing the industry in that country, but finally recognised that the unreliable English summer was not suitable for poppy production. Their researcher, Mr Steven King, examined weather records for several countries and came to Australia with a view to establishing the industry in Victoria. The Victorian government was not interested in the proposal, and Mr King turned his attention to Tasmania, a location which he had previously overlooked due to not having climate data. He found the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture a willing partner in establishing trials, and over several years Tasmania was confirmed as a suitable location for poppy cultivation."

However, Tasmania has competition--and interestingly, it exists less so thanks to Johnson & Johnson, the other large opium producer in Tasmania, and more so because of the DEA.

The Sydney Morning Herald writes:

"Most morphine bought by the US comes from less well-controlled poppy-growing countries such as Turkey and India because of a US Drug Enforcement Administration program aimed at curbing illegal heroin production by buying the crop from local farmers."

Still, with 95% of its crop exported, Tasmania's poppy production "will be worth more than $30 million at the farm gate this year and several times more than that as pharmaceutical drugs."

The other 5%? It seems the wallabies have been getting frisky:

"We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles," Tasmania's top lawmaker Lara Giddings said in 2009. "Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high."

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