Opium Production & Processing in India

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    • Recently, India has opened up the highly regulated sector of producing and processing opium to private players.

    About

    • Bajaj Healthcare has become the first company to win tenders for producing concentrated poppy straw that is used to derive alkaloids that are the active pharmaceutical ingredient in pain medication and cough syrups.
    • Bajaj Healthcare has been awarded two government tenders for the manufacture of:
      • Concentrated poppy straw (CPS) alkaloids and 
      • Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from unlanced poppy capsules.
    • CPS is a mechanised system under which the entire harvest is cut by machine and transferred to factories for alkaloid extraction.
    • This is a landmark change in India’s approach to opium processing, which has hitherto been handled solely by the Government’s Opium and Alkaloid Factory (GoAF).

    Significance of involving Private Players

    • The private company will process 6,000 MT of unopened poppy capsules and opium gum to produce active pharmaceutical ingredients over the next five years.
    • The involvement of the private sector might boost the domestic production of various alkaloids such as morphine and codeine, bring in modern technology, and reduce imports
      • Despite being one of the few global cultivators of poppy, India still imports these active pharmaceutical ingredients as well as poppy seeds, which is also consumed as a food item in the country.
    • The move is also aimed at offsetting the declining area under cultivation of poppy in India. In 2017 and 2019, under a trial phase, two private companies were allowed to produce concentrated poppy straw.

    Opium 

    • Scientific Name: Papaver somniferum
    • It is a medicinal herb that produces a variety of alkaloids such as morphine, codeine, etc. and is best known as a pain reliever in modern medicine.
    • It is used for a range of treatments, from post-operative pain management and palliative care for terminal cancer patients to treating accident-related trauma and chronic pain syndromes.
    • Under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), India is among the 12 countries in the world allowed to grow opium poppy for medicinal use.
      • However, India is the only nation allowed to extract gum opium, in which skilled workers manually extract the latex that contains 70% of the morphine synthesised by the plant by lancing its flower-bearing pod.
      • Countries such as Australia, France, China and Turkey, which grow legal opium, use a CPS method.
    • The extraction process is carried out at facilities controlled by the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance.
    • Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the three traditionally opium growing States, where poppy crop cultivation is allowed based on licences issued annually by the Central Bureau of Narcotics.

    Opium production in India

    • Origin: India has been growing poppies at least since the 15th century
    • Monopoly: The British East India Company assumed monopoly on the cultivation of poppy when the Mughal Empire was on the decline, and the entire trade was brought under government control by 1873.
    • Post independence: After India gained independence, the cultivation and trade of opium passed on to the Indian government, with the activity being controlled by The Opium Act, 1857, The Opium Act, 1878, and The Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930
    • Present: The cultivation and processing of poppy and opium is controlled by the provisions of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and Rules.

    Processing Opium in India

    • Strict Regulations: Due to the potential for illicit trade and risk of addiction, the cultivation of opium poppy is strictly regulated in the country, with the crops being allowed to be sown only in tracts of land notified by the central government in 22 districts in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
    • Licensing Policy: The government announces the licensing policy for opium cultivation every year, providing details on:
      • Minimum qualifying yield, 
      • The maximum area that can be cultivated by a single cultivator, and 
      • The maximum benefit that is allowed to cultivators for damage to the crop due to natural causes.
    • Illicit cultivation: The cultivation of opium poppy is strictly monitored — the government uses satellite images to check for illicit cultivation. 
      • Once the crop is ready, they have a formula on how much the yield should be. This entire quantity is then bought by the government and processed in its own factories.
    • Processing: The opium produced in the country is currently processed entirely at the Government Opium and Alkaloid Factories in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur and Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch.

    Application 

    • Positive: 
      • Opium is a natural substance obtained from poppy seeds and its derivatives are mainly used for pain management.
      • The extracts from opium poppy such as morphine are potent painkillers and are mainly prescribed to cancer patients
      • The opium product codeine is helpful in cough suppression.
    • Negative: 
      • It is used illicitly for smoking, drinking, or even eating as pills. 
      • The addictive properties of opium is the reason that the cultivation of poppy is highly regulated around the world. 

    Alkaloids

    • These are any of a class of naturally occurring organic nitrogen-containing bases and have diverse and important physiological effects on humans and other animals.
    • Well-known alkaloids include morphine, strychnine, quinine, ephedrine, and nicotine.
    • Alkaloids are found primarily in plants and are especially common in certain families of flowering plants.
    • They have diverse medicinal properties.
    • India exports alkaloids to several countries.
    • Usage: 
      • The poppy stem is cut below the pod and then crushed to produce a concentrate
      • Alkaloids obtained from opium are used to make cough syrups, cancer medicines and pain-management medicines
      • Therapeutically, alkaloids are particularly well known as anaesthetics, cardioprotective, and anti-inflammatory agents
      • Well-known alkaloids used in clinical settings include morphine, strychnine, quinine, ephedrine and nicotine
      • Alkaloids had some use as insecticides, but their use was limited due to high toxicity to humans

                                                         (Image Courtesy: Cayman)

    Source: IE