171. Letter From the Assistant to the Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Holton) to the Senior Member of the Military Installations and Facilities Subcommittee, House of Representatives (Bennett)1 2

This refers to your letter of October 18, regarding the possibility of acquiring more opium from legitimate foreign sources rather than drawing down United States defense stockpiles of opium.

Traditionally, the United States has relied on the importation of crude opium for the manufacture of its required medicinal narcotic drugs. In the Narcotics Drug Import and Export Act approved May 26, 1922, the United States Government established a policy of depending on importation of crude opium and exclusion of semi-finished or finished narcotic drugs. This policy was carried forward in the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act approved October 27, 1970, except that semi-finished or finished narcotic drugs may be imported “during an emergency in which domestic supplies of such substance or drug are found by the Attorney General to, be inadequate.”

The original United States policy was formulated at a time when legitimate supplies of opium from foreign sources were plentiful. By 1970, there was some doubt about whether the United States could continue to rely wholly on foreign sources, and the Congress provided an emergency measure. Since 1970, these doubts have become a reality. Although Turkey recently decided to permit cultivation of opium poppies, the production of “poppy straw process” adopted by Turkey is a system whereby the incised poppy capsules are harvested and shipped to a factory where narcotic alkaloids are processed directly from the husks. Consequently, India is the only country that produces opium for exportation, and its ability to fulfill the world’s legitimate demand for crude opium in 1974 (and the predicted demand for 1975) is not remarkable.

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There has been much discussion in and out of Government in regard to alternative measures, and we are continuing to look for long-range answers to rather perplexing problems. We have been encouraged by recent reports indicating that the anticipated harvesting of poppy straw next year will do much to relieve worldwide codeine shortages. The problem at this point is not so much that the world’s supply and demand for codeine will not be balanced, but that the reliance of the United States on the importation of crude opium is somewhat tenuous in view of the fact that there are no assurances of adequate supplies of crude opium in the future.

Based on a formula whereby the authorized United States pharmaceutical companies would withdraw such opium from the stockpile to permit them to carry a six-months inventory, already in 1974 the companies have acquired over two-thirds of the opium authorized to be released by H.R. 9429 (S-2166). The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that United States requirements for codeine will be even higher in 1975, and the probability of satisfying this need from Indian opium is not encouraging.

Accordingly, on December 20, 1974, Drug Enforcement Administrator John R. Bartels, Jr., announced in the Federal Register that he is exercising emergency authority under the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act and will allow the import of a raw material described as “concentrate of poppy straw” to supplement our imports of crude opium. A copy of the Federal Register publication is enclosed.

We are hopeful that this step will help to relieve the imbalance of the supply and demand for codeine in the United States.


Linwood Holton
Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files P740147–1396. No classification marking. Drafted by Miller on December 23; and cleared in OMB. The attachment is printed in Federal Register, Vol. 39, No. 246, December 20, 1974, pp. 44033–44034. H.R. 9429 and S. 2166, both entitled “A bill to authorize the disposal of opium from the national stockpile,” were introduced on July 19.
  2. Holton explained the rationale behind the release of opium from the strategic stockpile and informed Bennett that the DEA would allow import of poppy straw concentrate.