FEATURED REPORT: Opioid Crisis caused by ‘ Tasmanian Poppy Farms ‘ the world’s largest produ cer of legal alkaloids — the raw materials from poppies that make powerful opioid painkillers and ha ve claimed 700,000 lives in the USA but farmers say they are not responsible #AceNewsDesk reports

#AceNewsReport – Oct.13: Tasmania is more than 14,500 kilometres from Oklahoma, but Australia’s island state has found itself caught in the crossfire of a devastating drug epidemic that has claimed more than 700,000 lives in the US: Widely known for its rich history and pristine national parks, Tasmania is also the world’s largest producer of legal alkaloids — the raw materials from poppies that make powerful opioid painkillers……………………In Bothwell, a small town nestled in the state’s central highlands that boasts a population of about 400, farmer Tom Edgell says the state’s poppy growers have been unfairly maligned.

Key points:

  • Tasmania is home to a poppy-farming industry that supplies 50 per cent of the raw materials to make the world’s opioid painkillers
  • The state was specifically mentioned in a US court case in which a US pharmaceutical giant was found to have helped fuel Oklahoma’s opioid crisis
  • Poppy farmers say they comply with all international and US federal regulations and are not to blame

“There’s an implication that somehow we are responsible for the prescription drug overdoses, but I feel that’s not accurate or fair,” Mr Edgell said.

“I guess poppy growers bear the same amount of responsibility that a wheat grower might for the obesity epidemic.”

A man stands outside with his arm on his carPhoto: Tom Edgell is based in Bothwell, in Tasmania’s Central Highlands. (ABC News: Pete Curtis)

In August, a US court found pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) had helped fuel the crisis in the state of Oklahoma, fining the company $US572 million (about $850 million)………………It was the first state opioid case to make it to trial in the US…………………..Prior to the trial, Oklahoma reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $US270 million ($398.5 million) deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which has subsequently filed for bankruptcy; and a $US85 million ($125 million) settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Prominent prescription opioids

  • Hydrocodone (eg. Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (eg. OxyContin, Percocet, Endone)
  • Oxymorphone (eg. Opana)
  • Morphine (eg. Kadian, Avinza)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse

Among the undisputed facts of the J&J case was that in 2015, 362 million opioid pills were dispensed to Oklahoma residents — enough for every adult to have 110 pills:

In his judgement, District Court Judge Thad Balkman detailed J&J’s efforts to influence doctors and government agencies, and the buying off of advocacy groups and organisations, which influenced prescribing doctors: Judge Balkman also ruled J&J’s marketing, “in its multitude of forms, was false, deceptive and misleading”.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “It must be abated immediately.”

But he also made mention of Tasmania, and its link to the highly addictive oxycodone family of painkillers.

Field of poppies in north west TasmaniaPhoto: It is estimated the US opioid crisis claimed 700,000 lives between 1999 and 2017. (ABC News: Gregor Salmon)

In his findings of fact, Judge Balkman detailed how J&J had acquired and formed subsidiaries Tasmanian Alkaloids and US-based Noramco in the 1980s “in order to ‘ensure a reliable source of raw narcotic materials'” “Noramco, located in the US, imports the narcotic raw materials supplied by Tasmanian Alkaloids, like morphine or thebaine, into the US, processes them into API [active pharmaceutical ingredients], then sells them to drug manufacturers,” the judgment read: Thebaine is used to make oxycodone, commonly branded as Endone or OxyContin.

Judge Thad Balkman arrives to give his decision in the opioid lawsuit involving Johnson & Johnson.Photo: Judge Thad Balkman found Johnson & Johnson had helped fuel Oklahoma’s opioid crisis. (Pool via AP: Sue Ogrocki)

Judge Balkman said J&J, “in concert with subsidiary Tasmanian alkaloids, ‘anticipated demand’ for oxycodone”………“Scientists at Tasmanian Alkaloids began a project ‘in 1994 in order to develop a high-thebaine poppy variety to meet the anticipated demand’,” Judge Balkman summarised…………………..The “Norman Poppy”, as it was dubbed, was described internally as a “transformational technology that enabled the growth of oxycodone”, the judgement read………………….Describing Normaco and Tasmanian Alkaloids as “key parts of [J&J’s] ‘pain management franchise'”, Judge Balkman said by 2015, J&J’s “Noramco World Wide Narcotics Franchise, comprised of Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, had become ‘the number-one supplier of narcotic API in the United States, the world’s largest market”……………J&J sold Tasmanian Alkaloids in 2016, but the prosecutor representing the state of Oklahoma, Brad Beckworth, went as far as to say “we know that the root of this entire crisis began in Tasmania and New Jersey [J&J headquarters]”

State attorney Brad Beckworth speaks with a screen which reads, "If you oversupply people will die", behind him.Photo: State attorney Brad Beckworth said Johnson & Johnson pushed doctors to prescribe more opioids in the 1990s. (AP: Chris Lansberger)

Farmers ‘at the bottom of the process’ But the 450 farmers who make up Tasmania’s poppy industry say they have complied with international and US federal regulations at every stage of the supply chain…………….There is a limit to how much poppy straw can be grown in the world. Every year the volume is set by International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the industry’s output is not what it once was.

Six years ago, Tasmania was harvesting 30,000 hectares of poppies — now that number has been slashed by almost two-thirds.

#AceNewsDesk reports ……………Published: Oct.13: 2019: By Jessica Hayes about 6 hours ago ABC.Net/

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