The following is a step-by-step description of morphine extraction in a typical Mainland Southeast Asian laboratory. An empty 55-gallon oil drum is placed on bricks about a foot above the ground and a fire is built under the drum. Thirty gallons of water are added to the drum and brought to a boil. Ten to fifteen kilograms of raw opium are added to the boiling water.
With stirring, the raw opium eventually dissolves in the boiling water, while soil, leaves, twigs, and other non-soluble materials float in the solution. Most of these materials are scooped out of the clear, dark brown liquid opium solution.
Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or, more often, a readily available chemical fertilizer with a high content of lime, is added to the solution. Lime will convert the water-insoluble morphine alkaloid into water-soluble calcium morphenate. (Other opium alkaloids do not react with lime to form water-soluble calcium salts, as does morphine.) Codeine is an opium alkaloid that is slightly water-soluble and some codeine will be carried over with the calcium morphenate in the liquid. Otherwise, for the most part, the other alkaloids will become a part of the sludge.
As the solution cools, the morphine solution is scooped from the drum and poured through a filter. Cloth rice sacks are often used as filters and can then be squeezed in a press to remove most of the solution from the wet sacks. Liquid saponated cresol (Lysol) is commonly added to the solution to facilitate filtering. The morphine-rich solution is then poured into large cooking pots and reheated but, this time, not boiled. Ammonium chloride (a powder) is added to the heated calcium morphenate solution to adjust the alkalinity to a pH of 8 to 9, and the solution is then allowed to cool. Within 1 or 2h, morphine base precipitates (crashes) out of the solution and settles to the bottom of the cooking pot.
The solution is then poured off through cloth filters. Any solid morphine base chunks in the solution will remain on the cloth. The morphine base is removed from both the cooking pot and from the filter cloths, wrapped and squeezed in cloth, and then dried in the sun. When dry, the crude morphine base is a coffee-colored coarse powder. This form of morphine is commonly known by the Chinese term pi-tzu in Mainland Southeast Asia.
If morphine base is to be stored or transported to another location, it may be pressed into blocks. Crude morphine base is generally 50%-70% morphine, and is an intermediate product in the heroin process. Addicts do generally not use this morphine base.
This crude morphine base may be further purified (and changed to morphine hydrochloride) by dissolution in hot water and hydrochloric acid, then adding activated charcoal, reheating, and filtering. The solution is filtered several times before being allowed to cool. As the solution cools, morphine hydrochloride precipitates out of the solution and settles to the bottom. The precipitate is trapped (or captured) by filtration.
If the morphine hydrochloride is to be stored or transported to another location, it may be pressed into bricks. Morphine hydrochloride (often tainted with codeine hydrochloride) is usually pressed into brick-sized blocks in a press and wrapped in paper or cloth. The most common block size is 2 in. by 4 in. by 5 in., and weighs about 3 lb (1.3 kg). It takes a full day to extract morphine from opium. As described in the preceding paragraphs, the chemicals used to isolate morphine from opium (known as extraction) include calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) and ammonium chloride. The precursor chemical normally used in the conversion of morphine to heroin (known as acetylation) is acetic anhydride. Chemical reagents used in the conversion process include sodium carbonate and activated charcoal. Chemical solvents needed are chloroform, ethyl alcohol (ethanol), and ethyl ether. Other chemicals may be substituted for these preferred chemicals, but most or all of these preferred chemicals are readily available from smugglers and suppliers.
Laboratory equipment includes large Chinese cooking woks, measuring cups, funnels, filter paper, litmus paper, and enamel (or stainless steel) pots. Only the most sophisticated heroin laboratories use glass flasks, propane gas ovens, vacuum pumps, autoclaves, electric blenders, venting hoods, centrifuges, reflux condensers, electric drying ovens, and elaborate exhaust systems. It is common to find portable, gasoline-powered generators at clandestine heroin conversion laboratories. Generators are used to power various electrical devices.
Heroin synthesis from morphine (either morphine base or morphine hydrochloride) is a two-step process that requires between 4 and 6 h to complete (Figure II-5). Heroin base is the intermediate product. Typically, morphine hydrochloride bricks are pulverized and the dried powder is then placed in an enamel pot. Acetic anhydride is added, which then reacts with the morphine to form heroin acetate. (This acetylation process will work either with morphine hydrochloride or morphine base.) The pot lid is tied or clamped on, using a damp towel for a gasket. The pot is carefully heated for about 2h, below boiling, at a constant temperature of 85°C (185°F). It is never allowed to boil or to become so hot as to vent fumes into the room. Tilting and rotation agitate the mixture until all of the morphine has dissolved. When cooking is completed, the pot is cooled and opened. During this step, morphine and the anhydride become chemically bonded, creating
Acetic Anhydride, Calcium Hydroxide, Ammonium Chloride. Alcohol, Ether, Acetone
Morphine Morphine Base HCl
Adulteration (Caffeine, Quinine, Strychnine)
Conversion to Salt
SE Asian Heroin No. 3
Figure II-5. Summary of the process of acetylation and purification of morphine to heroin
Figure II-5. Summary of the process of acetylation and purification of morphine to heroin an impure form of diacetylmorphine (heroin). Water is added to the thick, soupy mixture and the mixture is stirred as the heroin dissolves in the solution. Sodium carbonate (a crystalline powder) is dissolved in hot water and then added slowly to the heroin solution until effervescence stops. This precipitates heroin base, which is then filtered and dried by heating in a steam bath. For each kilogram of morphine, 685 g-937 g of crude heroin base is formed, depending on the quality of morphine.
The tan-colored heroin base (about 70% pure heroin) may be dried, packed, and transported to a heroin-refining laboratory, or it may be purified further before conversion to heroin hydrochloride (a water-soluble salt form of heroin) at the same site.
Mainland Southeast Asian heroin base is an intermediate product that can be further converted to either smoking heroin (heroin no. 3) or injectable heroin (heroin no. 4). To make heroin no. 3, the crude base is mixed with hydrochloric acid, resulting in heroin hydrochloride (HCl). Adulterants, including caffeine, are added after this conversion. For each kilogram of crude heroin base, about 1 kg of caffeine is used. Various flavorings such as quinine hydrochloride or strychnine hydrochloride are sometimes added to heroin no. 3. Next, the wet paste mix is stirred to dryness over a steam bath.
The resulting dry heroin no. 3 will be in the form of coarse lumps. The lumps are crushed and passed through a mesh sieve, and the grains (pieces) are then packaged for sale. The entire process takes about 8 h and requires only minimal skill. While extra attention to stirring is required to assure dryness, one person can prepare 1 kg of heroin no. 3 during this time.
The reaction of morphine with acetic anhydride produces heroin acetate. To the heroin acetate mixture in the pot, water is added and mixed by stirring. A small amount of chloroform is added. The mixture is stirred and then allowed to stand for 20 min. Doing so dissolves highly colored impurities and a red, greasy liquid is formed at the bottom of the container. The water layer is carefully poured off and saved in a clean pot, leaving the red grease in the pot. In a clean pot, activated charcoal is stirred into the aqueous solution and is filtered to remove solid impurities. The decolorizing effects of the charcoal, combined with the chloroform treatment, will leave a light yellow solution. The use of charcoal is repeated one or more times, until the solution is colorless.
Sodium carbonate (a crystalline powder) is dissolved in hot water and then added slowly to the heroin solution until effervescence stops. This precipitates the heroin base, which is then filtered and dried by heating on a steam bath. The heroin base is heated until dried. The powder should be very white at this stage. If not white, the base is redissolved in diluted acid, treated repeatedly with activated charcoal, re-precipitated, and dried. The ultimate purity and color of the resulting heroin HCl will depend largely on the quality of the heroin base. The heroin base is then dissolved in ethyl ether. Conversion to the hydrochloride salt is achieved by adding hydrochloric acid in ethanol to the heroin mixture. The heroin then precipitates.
The process of extracting morphine from opium involves dissolving opium in boiling water, adding lime (calcium oxide), or slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), or limestone (calcium carbonate) to precipitate non-morphine alkaloids, and then pouring off the morphine in solution. Ammonium chloride is then added to the solution to precipitate morphine from the solution. The chemicals used to process opium to morphine have a number of legitimate purposes and are widely available on the open market. An empty oil drum, some cooking pots, and filter cloths or filter paper are needed.
In the United States, opium preparations became widely available in the nineteenth century and morphine was used extensively as a painkiller for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The inevitable result was opium addiction, contemporarily called the army disease or soldier's disease. These opium and morphine abuse problems prompted a scientific search for potent, but nonaddictive, painkillers. In the 1870s, chemists developed an opium-based and supposedly nonaddictive substitute for morphine. The Bayer Pharmaceutical Company of Germany was the first to produce the new drug in large quantities under the brand name Heroin. This product was obtained by acetylation of morphine. Soon thereafter studies showed heroin to have narcotic and addictive properties far exceeding those of morphine. Although heroin has been used in the United Kingdom in the treatment of the terminally ill, its medical value is a subject of intense controversy.
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