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Turkey challenges its illegal opium industry

Turkey is about to open the world's biggest factory for processing opium poppy straw into morphine and codeine. Built with much international assistance, the plant is intended as a final link in the country's effort to free itself from interference by international crime syndicates.

Turkey was once the source of 80 percent of the illicit heroin used by North American addicts. But since its two-year ban on opium poppy cultivation, which ended in 1974, Turkey has turned the domestic industry into a legitimate and profitable agribusiness catering to the world pharmaceutical industry.

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It has just signed a new $5 million agreement here with the United Nations' Fund for Drug Abuse Control for a joint operation to stamp out Turkey's remaining links with the illegal trade.

The UN explained that ''the remarkable success'' of the Turkish authorities in eliminating illicit production of raw opium is based on the introduction of the poppy-straw process, which bypasses the traditional lancing of poppy capsules.

Instead, the capsules are left on the field. The resulting poppy straw is purchased by government agents at a guaranteed price and used to produce alkaloids at the plant - the first such commercial enterprise in a developing country.

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