Papaver Somniforum can be bought in any garden centre in the UK. You can buy a pack of a hundred seeds for less than a fiver. Lots of people grow them and they look pretty; though the petals don’t stay on the tall flower heads for very long. Some are pink and white, or red, or blue, or black – any colour you like – and they are the starting point for the most ruthless drug in existence: street heroin.
Contrary to popular thought, heroin is quite difficult to make. The brown stuff we see in the UK is Afghani in origin and has moved many miles, passed through many hands and, finally, has been smuggled into the country (usually in shipping containers) from Holland by men who would happily tie your shoelaces to blocks of cement and pop you over the side of a boat on the next specially arranged fishing trip off Felixstow if you presented a threat to the operation. The formative procedures of heroin production take place in the famous poppy fields of Afghanistan and (surprisingly for some) Pakistan. There, the poppy is planted wholesale as a large arable crop akin to American wheat fields or Lincolnshire sugar beet. You’ve seen them on tv; humble looking Afghani farmers in tatty clothes standing with blissful expressions in floating fields of pale pink flowers a million miles from the nearest Tesco’s….and any westernised system of law.
To harvest the poppies you have to wait until the petals fall off of the large oval seed heads, then you score them on a regular basis so the milky white sap flows out and gums up. Then it’s a simple process of scraping the gum up and rolling it into a ball. This product is what made the British Empire great….opium. And be under no illusion folks, opium is what greased the wheels of our forefathers. Opium kept the Chinese in check, the Indians paying, and the poor quiet. Without the brown stuff the UK would have left the world a better place, simply by not fucking about with people who lived a long way from us and who deserved better than they got…
The next stage of heroin production happens usually fairly close to the growing area. You boil the opium with water and lime and pour off the white layer that collects on the top of the mixture, then you boil this residue with ammonia, filter it, boil it again…..hey presto……morphine base. Like opium, you can smoke the clay-like morphine base. And you can pack it into bricks for shipment to Europe – and the labs needed to turn morphine in to diamorphine (pharmaceutical heroin).
The chemical process of altering the one molecule morphine base into the double morphine molecule of diamorphine is complicated and I don’t quite understand a lot of it, but I can assure you it doesn’t take place outside of tightly controlled criminal gangs or out of sight of a gun or two. The adulteration process of slinging any old shit (sometimes literally) into the heroin happens after this point. Brick dust, milk powder, vit c powder, furniture polish, baked paracetamol, chalk, the list is endless and bounded only by your capacity for imagination and your greed and lack of morals.
A multi billion pound industry functions to turn poppy sap into the most addictive and destructive drug I ever came across. And we let it happen without doing anything other than rattling government sabres at it all like Don Quixote. And, like Don Quixote, we’re charging at ghosts, in the wrong direction. David Cameron wants to keep up the fight against drugs and I sometimes wonder why? What’s he fighting for? Is he fighting for all the heroin addicts that still get their fix despite the efforts of our police and customs? Is he fighting for the Afghani producers? [Interestingly, I was working in a drug team when the USA took over Afghanistan. The world was told that one of the fringe benefits to this invasion was the destruction of the poppy fields. In truth, heroin purity went up. Poppy production, which had been more tightly controlled by the Taliban, increased under US rule.] Or is Dave just telling us things we think we need to hear?
People will always use drugs, like heroin. No-one will stop it. And the damage is not done by the drug. Heroin, if used safely and if you have access to pharmaceutically pure product, (Currently the UK user sees a purity of around 30-40%) presents limited danger to health when in the hands of an educated user. The problems arise from its use when the heroin is expensive (minimum £10 for 0.2g in the UK) and when it is full of things which aren’t meant to be in a human vein – like brick dust. And, believe me, criminalising someone for using a drug is the most expensive and destructive way around the whole issue. People can use drugs safely. You maybe don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. The damage is done when people get hooked on something expensive – and a conservative heroin habit will cost you anywhere between £70 – £250 a week, every week. Higher end users consume and pay much, much more. The right wing response to drug use causes the price hike, as it also causes old needles to be jammed in femoral veins, climbing HEP C rates, and the desperate crimes committed to fund what is, in the cold light of day, one of the cheapest drugs to make in the world – if you take away the importation costs and profits from criminal gangs we’re talking pennies. But in the underworld of the current heroin market, wholesalers can buy a kilogram of the best Afghani for around £10,000 (and that kilo won’t be pure). Simply bagging it up into 0.2 gramme units at £10 a unit makes for a total return of £50,000……and that’s before you even bulk it out further. As you can see, the profit margins are huge beyond belief. And people will make money if they can. It’s almost as much of a human failing as addiction. Or maybe it’s just an addiction to the more acceptable drug: money.
The cooks will cook, the gangs will prosper, and the local smackhead will still creep about nefariously in the early hours looking for an easy way to pay for the cure for that nights pain. That is, until we start to tackle drugs as a health problem, or maybe….just maybe….. we re-establish it as simply a choice people make.