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Police highlight poppy theft risks

Tasmania is a major producer of legal opiates, and the industry claims some of the most stringent plantation security in the world.

But an increase in the number of thefts has the industry and police worried. In the 2015-16 financial year, 516 poppy heads were stolen – and last financial year, poppy thefts increased to 12,239 heads.

Tasmania Police Detective Inspector Jason Elmer said it was down to a few drug users, not organised crime.  "We believe that these poppies are being taken for the use of the individuals involved," he said.

"[It could be] two or three people operating together, and being able to quickly gather large numbers of the [poppy heads] and take them back for their use."

Eight people have been arrested over the latest thefts, and more than half of the stolen poppies have been recovered.

Chief executive of Poppy Growers Tasmania Keith Rice said Tasmanian poppies were highly toxic if ingested and could even kill.  Plants grown for commercial harvesting were different to standard poppies, and were developed to produce chemicals suitable for industrial processing only.  "It's enormously concerning for the industry," he said. 

Since 1992, there have been five deaths where the coroner has found evidence of opiate substance ingestion or inhalation, and in several of these cases, other drugs were also evident.  Police said those well-publicised deaths probably accounted for lower number of thefts immediately afterwards. 

The surge in thefts has now sparked another major poppy industry security review.

(From ABC Rural - 30 July 2017)