Guillermo Ospina
Colombia -
February 09, 2023

Poppy Relief

The poppy is one of the most important plants in pharmaceutical history. The Sumerians called it the “plant of happiness,” and the Chinese used it in surgical procedures. It is still the raw material for the production of different types of pain medication. From studying its active components, synthetic drugs that activate the same neuronal receptors have also been developed.

Countries such as the United States are today facing a humanitarian crisis due to the problematic consumption of opiates and opioids to avoid pain. At the same time, there are countries where poppy cultivation is persecuted, and levels of violence have been increasing. Why are there countries where it is possible to grow poppy legally and others where it is not? Is the problem only in production and commercialization? Where is the consumption?

To discuss these issues, we invited Colombian anthropologist Guillermo Ospina. He has been researching political ecology for more than 20 years, especially with peasant communities in the high mountains. Without looking for it, he came across poppy, first in the Tolima region and then in Nariño. Both at different times in the plant’s economy.

“Why are we buying pharmaceutical products based on poppy produced by Sanofi, one of the largest laboratories in the world that produces pain medication? Why do we have to buy them and not produce them when we have people who grow the plant, and it could be a raw material for a national industry?” asks Ospina. “An important step would be to decriminalize. There will always be a demand for products or things that take away the pain, from the medical aspect to many daily lives.”

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