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Spain, which has more than 23 million hectares of useful agricultural land and 17 of which are plantations, is the garden of Europe in terms of many products. For example, most of the garlic in the European Union (EU) comes from Castilla-La Mancha, and rural areas of Spain also play a key role in the production of citrus fruits, pistachios or olive oil, to name just a few examples. But on the global map, our country stands out (and with overwhelming weight) in another, much less known business: opium poppy, or poppy. Thousands of well-monitored hectares of land are devoted to this opium supply, allowing Spain to emerge as one of the major international powers in the legal supply of opium for morphine for medical use.

Also known as papaver somniferum This has another effect: it turns Spain into a pilgrimage point for ‘opium vampires’.

Spain, global potential. This idea is conveyed by the United Nations itself. The report published by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for years clearly reflects Spain’s dominance in legal opium production. And on a global scale beyond the European framework. In its 2022 analysis, the international organization noted, for example, that the previous year Spain was the world’s largest legal opium producer of morphine.

To be more precise, INCB technicians calculated two years ago that the equivalent of 100 tonnes of morphine was produced in Spain, placing it first in the world rankings, followed by Australia (96 tonnes) and Turkey (69 tonnes). France (37 tons) and India (27 tons). “Almost all world production in 2021 is concentrated in these five countries,” supervisory board technicians said.

Poppy “Made in Spain”. It’s not just poppies that come from Spanish fields for morphine production. The INCB report reveals that in 2021, our country, along with Australia, is the only country where codeine-rich poppy is grown. In the first country, planting areas decreased by half, while in Spain they almost tripled compared to 2020. The country is also on the poppy map, rich in thebaine, but there is space reserved for poppy cultivation in the scenario of global production decline. decreased significantly.

The United Nations ranked Turkey first with 303 tons of morphine-rich opium raw material stocks, and Spain ranked second. France, Australia and India completed the top 5. The United Nations agency estimated that 99% of the world’s stock is combined with Japan, Hungary, the United States and the United Kingdom.

last picture”. The 2023 INCB report shows that Spain continues to play an important role in the world map of legal opium for morphine. “Australia and Spain remained the largest producers of morphine-rich raw materials and the sole producers of codeine- and oripavine-rich poppy in 2022, while Australia was the sole producer of thebaine-rich poppy,” describe the technicians. In fact, although the area devoted to poppy production, from which alkaloids are extracted, has decreased overall in 2022, Spain and India have seen an increase in the cultivation of morphine-rich plants.

According to JIFE results, at least in 2014, most of the production came from a handful of countries. Including Spain, of course. “The main producer of thebaine-rich poppy straw was Australia, followed in descending order by Spain and France. Codeine-rich poppy cultivation was reported only by Australia and France,” the board’s technicians said.

And

But… Where is it produced? Opium for medical use is not just any business. So everything that revolves around it is also unconventional. The crops from which poppy straw is extracted are managed discreetly, with their exact location not disclosed for security reasons. But there is a foundational name in the industry: Alcaliber, which boasts of managing poppy plants for more than 40 years and has “one of the most modern facilities in the world” for opium production. Alkaloid-rich poppy straw was removed from the fields.

“Alcaliber cultivates more than 6,000 hectares every year papaver somniferum The company, which operates in different geographical regions throughout Spain in order to obtain maximum efficiency from the harvest, explains on its corporate website as follows. The firm has a long history behind it, dating back decades and connecting it to the Abelló saga. In 2018, it was sold to the British group GHO for an amount of 250 million euros, according to financial sources.

acres of white. “We are the world leader in morphine production and we can be very proud of that,” José Antonio de la Puente, Alcaliber’s CEO, said last year. MailThis indicates that the company is the only one with a Health permit for its cultivation in Spain. papaver somniferum and production of alkaloids for medicinal purposes.

To achieve this, it relies on a basic pillar: crops managed by farmers who devote thousands and thousands of hectares to white poppies. The average is around 10,000 hectares per year, but this area can vary from year to year for reasons such as United Nations guidelines for maintaining the balance between supply and demand for opium.

Good localized production. The majority of these white-flowered poppy fields are located in Castilla-La Mancha, particularly in Toledo, Albacete and Ciudad Real; They can also be found in other places such as Castilla y León, La Rioja or the Basque Country. “As long as you extract at least 2,500 kilos of poppy stalks per hectare, these are profitable crops,” he explains Mail He is one of the farmers who devoted approximately 50 hectares of land to poppy production.

“Opium vampires”. The exact location of the sleepy fields is almost a secret, largely explained by those known as “opium vampires”. poppy, people who devoted themselves to traveling through plantation-concentrated areas of Spain in search of plants. Both those born wild on roadsides and in isolated fields, and those raised on professional farms such as those in Alcaliber.

“Vampires” may sound exaggerated, but it has its own logic and is based on its own foundation. modus operandi: Poppys use small blades to cut part of the plant and extract a latex that has narcotic effects. To do this, they must escape the surveillance of the Civil Guard and the farmers themselves. For example, at the end of spring 2023, authorities arrested a young man carrying 22 grams of opium collected from a wild plantation, and in 2011 the Civil Guard identified two Italians who managed to collect 84 grams of opium in the province of Toledo. this would have earned them around 3,400 euros on the black market.

These are not exceptional cases. Years later, they hunted down another Portuguese man who was carrying 81 grams of opium. Mail The report states that in Toledo state alone, 80 complaints were filed for possession or consumption of opium between 2021 and 2022.

A tragic journey. There are times when pilgrimage is made. poppy The Civil Guard faces a much worse fate than the police station or the courts. Spain already has cases of “opium vampires” dying from drug consumption. This happened in 2009, when 32-year-old Italian Pasquale died in Albacete, where he had cut down opium plants to find their latex. The investigation revealed that opium alkaloids as well as cocaine, marijuana and alcohol were found in his system. A few years ago another young man, in this case an Irishman, died in similar circumstances in Toledo.

Pictures | Wikipedia and Manual MV (Flickr)

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