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Tasmania is the world's largest producer of opium alkaloids for the pharmaceutical market. Standards placed on the industry by the Federal, State and US governments are stringent with very high levels of scientific expertise necessary.

The industry is highly efficient. It produces about 50% of the world's concentrated poppy straw (CPS) for morphine and related opiates from merely 10.7% of the production area. (Concentrated Poppy Straw is actually the extracted opiates crystallized out of solution, not the poppy heads and stalks in the photo.)

Other major players are Turkey with 23% of morphine CPS, France with 21% morphine CPS and Spain with 4%. India, by contrast, produces traditional opium from which the US extracts opium alkaloids. India's morphine production is similar to Tasmania. Tasmania has an alkaloid yield of about 9.3 kg/ha compared with France at 7.0 kg/ha, Spain 4.9 kg/ha and Turkey at 1.1 kg/ha.

Most of Tasmania's exports are codeine, thebaine and other opiates. GlaxoKlineSmith exports to Port Fairy poppy straw which is processed to produce norphine, codeine and thebaine.

The industry was introduced into Tasmania by Mr. Steven King in the late 1960's for MacFarlan Smith, a subsidiary of Glaxo, now GlaxoSmithKline. The industry uses the dried poppy straw technique developed by Janos Kabay of Hungary.

Poppy Straw

The poppy industry is a major financial contributor to Tasmania's economy. The area sown to poppies (Papaver somniferum) is 20 000 hectares of land. Each hectare produces something like 2.4 to 2.5 tonnes of poppy heads. It provides 40% of the US market's legal opiate supply in the form of codeine, thebaine and other variants.Other pharmaceutical chemicals are derived and sent to other countries like United Kingdom. The USA has controls on the entry of opiates which limits the export of these chemicals to the USA.

Two companies operate in Tasmania.

The industry is a major employer of scientists whether specialising in chemistry, engineering, agricultural sciences or biology. Equipment used in analysis includes mass spectrometers, gas and liquid chromatography and other advanced equipment. Chemists, agriculture graduates and engineers are always required by the industry.