Tracing a path for opium gum from Mexico as a safe supply harm reduction measure for Canada

Field of poppy plants

By Zara Snapp and Jorge Herrera Valderrábano


Historically, the poppy plant has had multiple uses including as a food product and with medical uses in pain relief; today it is most commonly known as the plant from which heroin is derived. The United Nations international drug control regime currently only allows legal poppy production for medical use in 19 countries. Although Mexico is the third largest illegal poppy producer in the world, no Latin American country is currently allowed to legally produce poppies. Meanwhile, the United States and Canada are experiencing an overdose crisis due in large part to the adulteration and substitution of heroin with fentanyl and its analogues, while the price of opium gum has dropped 80% in the last two years in poppy producing areas of Mexico.

The prohibition of opium has wide ranging health and development impacts that bring up a moral imperative regarding the safe supply of diverse opium-based products –including opium gum and heroin– that urgently need to be explored and addressed. Opium gum can be used orally or smoked, reducing riskier modes of administration and possible fatal overdoses. This article discusses the political and legal possibilities of safely supplying opium gum and manually extracted heroin from Mexico to Canada as a public health, harm reduction and development policy.

This article was part of a Special Issue in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Read the full Special Issue here.