It is believed that the opium poppy originated in the Mediterranean region. Papaver somniferum, also called opium poppy, bread seed poppy and sometimes Turkish poppy or peony poppy, has been cultivated since around 4000 BC and has been used for both its medicinal and recreational drug qualities. The seed pod that follows the flower which contains a milky sap holds the main ingredients found in opium: morphine, codeine and thebaine. Opium for illegal use is often converted into heroin.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the poppy produced in Turkey had fallen in the hands of drug traffickers and most of the produce entered the USA as illegal narcotics. At the time the USA wanted Turkey to put an end to growing poppy. Three consecutive Prime Ministers realized that this would not be a step taken in the right direction. Growing poppy was a tradition and an important source of income for many farmers. The plan was to grow the plant under strict control and guidelines. In addition, the USA agreed on a policy to purchase the raw materials needed for medicinal use from Turkey and encourage other countries to do the same.
There are several countries that are considered traditional growers of poppy and as a major traditional grower Turkey plants 54 % of the world’s legal poppy fields. Legal opium production is allowed under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and other international drug treaties. In thirteen provinces 70,000 farmers grow opium poppy under strict supervision by law enforcement agencies of the country. The main cultivation areas are in southwestern Turkey. There is even a city by the name of Afyon which is the Turkish word for opium. Burdur, Denizli, Konya, İsparta and Uşak are some of the other cities where opium poppy is grown.
Papaver somniferum has many subspecies or varieties and cultivars. Colors of the flower, number and shape of petals, number of seeds and other physical characteristics vary.
Today many synthetic and purified forms of narcotics are produced but Papaver somniferum still provides the most effective anesthetic. No drug has been found that can match the painkilling effect of opioids without also duplicating much of their addictive potential.