Progress in Determining the Origin of Illicit Opium

Sections

THE PROBLEM AND THE RESEARCH PROGRAMME
RECENT RESULTS
CONCLUSIONS

Details

Pages: 8 to 14
Creation Date: 1953/01/01

Progress in Determining the Origin of Illicit Opium

THE PROBLEM AND THE RESEARCH PROGRAMME

Vital as opium and its alkaloids are as medicines, there is certainly even more opium produced and consumed for non-medical purposes, or to put it bluntly, for drug addiction. No one knows the total amount, but it is certainly hundreds of tons, possibly even thousands of tons, over the whole world in the course of a year. Most of the non-medical consumption is in certain producing countries such as China and Iran, but much opium is also smuggled to non-producing countries. Moreover, illicit opium is the main source of illicit morphine and heroine. Sometimes it is converted to the "white drugs" in the country of origin, sometimes only after being smuggled to other countries.

When illicit opium is seized by enforcement authorities, it is often desirable to know from where it came. The circumstances of the seizure may tell something: such things as the port at which a vessel last called, or wrappings of newspapers, poppy leaves, or oiled paper, may be indications. On the other hand, such evidence may be lacking or unconvincing as concerns the origin. An expert may be able to tell the origin by the appearance of the opium itself, its colour and texture. Still better, scientific means may be applied and the opium may be made to disclose its origin by its own nature. This last possibility was discussed at intervals by enforcement officers for some fifteen or twenty years before a comprehensive programme was started to see just what could be worked out.

At the end of the war, and as part of the new United Nations Organization, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs came into being, replacing the Opium Advisory Committee, which had functioned under the League of Nations. The representatives of fifteen governments on the Commission agreed that a scientific assault should be made upon the problem of identifying the origin of seized opium. At its third and fourth sessions, the Commission proposed resolutions 159 II C (VII) and 246 F (IX). These were adopted by the Economic and Social Council on 3 August 1948 and 6 July 1949, respectively.

Under these resolutions an international research programme has been gradually organized, concerned primarily with the development of methods for determining the origin of opium by scientific means. Interrelated topics of special importance such as the study of methods of assay of opium for morphine and codeine contents, are given particular attention. Studies are made both by chemists of the United Nations Secretariat, and by other scientists designated by governments throughout the world.

The producing countries have co-operated in supplying opium of known origin for study. Samples of their own production have been received from China, Greece, India, Iran, Korea, Laos and Vietnam, Turkey, and Yugoslavia; and other samples, not directly from producing countries, have been contributed by France and the United States. From these supplies, samples have been distributed for research in various countries, and scientists are collaborating in Austria, Canada, China (Taiwan), Denmark, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States of America.

A new series of United Nations documents has been established, dealing with "The Assay, Characteristics, Composition, and Origin of Opium". Twelve papers have thus far been issued in this "Series K" numbered ST/SOA/SER.K/1 to ST/SOA/SER.K/ 12. In this series, and a few preceding papers, there have been contributions from the United Nations Secretariat and from scientists in Austria, Canada, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Other scientists are hard at work to learn more about opium in the continuous struggle to suppress the evils of illicit narcotics and at the same time to learn more about the alkaloidal value of different kinds of opium, and to improve control over its legitimate use.

All this co-operation is very valuable in itself. It shows that most of the countries of the world do want to work together. In this particular case, scientists interested in opium and those connected with narcotics enforcement in various countries are working on a common project. As one result of all the discussion, governments become more conscious of the need for controlling opium.

Thus, the opium research would be of real value even if it were finally decided that, as a means of determining origin, the scientific tests would not work.

A story is told about the American inventor Edison. Once an assistant became discouraged over the many experiments on a certain project, 214 or some such number, made, as he said, "with no success". But Edison said the experiments had been successful because "Wenow know 214 things that will not work".

However, there is every reason to believe that the opium research will be completely successful in the positive sense the methods will work. Recent results obtained by the Secretariat chemists are very convincing on this point, as will be explained.

It may be well to emphasize that the opium research is not an effort to pin transgression on one particular country, but to ensure that all producing countries are conscious of the problem that their opium creates in other countries, and made aware that when any considerable amount of opium is allowed to leak into international illicit traffic, its national origin may be demonstrated by convincing scientific tests. The leading producing countries are themselves co-operating in the United Nations programme, and share in the progress of research.

RECENT RESULTS

Codeine

Thc Secretariat chemists have recently completed a survey of the codeine contents of available samples.

Before the opium research programme ever began, it was well known, from commercial sources, that opium from India and Iran has about twice the codeine content of opium from Yugoslavia and Turkey.

Chart 1 shows curves for the codeine content of opium in different regions. The codeine percentages, according to the United Nations analyses, are taken as ordinates. The values for each region are put in numerical order and then represented as a "curve". As can be easily seen, the codeine percentages are lowest for the region of Macedonia (Yugoslavia and Greece) and are three or four times as high for the Far East (China, Korea, and Mongolia).

CHART 1 Curves of codeine percentages for six opium producing regions

Full size image: 12 kB, CHART 1Curves of codeine percentages for six opium producing regions
  1. Greece and Yugoslavia (16 samples)

  2. Turkey (85 samples)

  3. Laos and Vietnam (11 samples)

  4. India (29 samples)

  5. Iran (27samples)

  6. China, Korea, Mongolia (10 samples)

    Ordinates are the percentages of codeine.

The circles on the curves for Turkey, India, and Iran indicate the positions of export samples from these countries. The Turkish export opium is a mixture of all the opium of the country, and the position of the export samples, all on the lower half of the curve, indicates that the Turkish samples higher in codeine are over-represented in proportion to quantity of production in the United Nations collection. Actually the bulk of Turkish production, called "druggist" opium, is very similar to the opium produced in Yugoslavia and Greece. The resemblance has an interesting history. The modern culture of the opium was introduced into Macedonia in the last century, when the region was in the possession of Turkey, but the "druggist" variety of opium is said to have originated, or been developed, in this European region, and was then introduced back into Asiatic Turkey.

It will be noted that the curve for Turkey rises rapidly near the end. However, most of these high to very high samples-including all of those above the cross line on the curve-come from certain districts of Turkey: Malatya and Zile. In subsequent charts, the samples from Malatya and Zile are separated from those from the rest of Turkey, as they belong to an entirely different type of opium.

It will be noted that, on the whole, the three lower curves bend upward while the three upper curves bend downward. The significance is that the less usual samples of the lower curves are the ones highest in codeine, causing the curve to rise more steeply at the end (particularly in the case of Turkey); while the less usual samples of the upper curves are those lowest in codeine, so that the curve rises most rapidly at the beginning, and then more or less levels off in a high range. The beginnings of curves 4 and 6 are represented by broken lines, because the first sample in each case is not at all characteristic.

A line at 2.4 percent separates fairly well the curves for Macedonia and Turkey from those for India and Iran. The curve for the Indochina region is intermediate, but on the whole corresponds to the upper part of the curve for Turkey. Another line at 3.6 percent separates the high curve for China, Korea, Mongolia fairly well from the curves for other regions, but quite a number of Iranian samples are not much under this value.

Chart 2 shows more clearly the distribution of the codeine groups. Here the codeine percentages are represented as abscissae. In this chart, each sample is taken at the nearest tenth of a per cent of codeine; and the ordinates, for each curve separately, represent the number of samples in the United Nations collection at the different values. The peaks, at about 1.2 per cent for Greece and Yugoslavia, between 0.8 and 1.8 per cent for Turkey, but at about 3.0 to 3.1 per cent for India, 3.4 per cent for Iran, are very clearly marked.

CHART 2 Distribution of the codeine groups for eight opium-producing regions

Full size image: 4 kB, CHART 2 Distribution of the codeine groups for eight opium-producing regions
  1. Greece and Yugoslavia

  2. Turkey, excluding Malatya and Zile

  3. Laos and Vietnam

  4. India

  5. Turkey, Malatya and Zile only

  6. Afghanistan

  7. Iran

  8. China, Korea, Mongolia

    Abscissae are the codeine percentages (taken to the nearest tenth).

    Ordinates for each curve separately are the number of samples at the particular percentage.

Chart 3 shows still another way of representing the codeine data; one which shows most clearly the clustering of samples about certain preferred values, and the more or less definite boundaries for groups. Here the codeine values are again ordinates, and each sample is represented by a separate spot, placed as close to the vertical line used for the particular region, as is possible without overlapping. Eight regions are represented, and one sees that the values for region 1 (Greece and Yugoslavia) are all well under 2 per cent, whereas the values for regions 4 to 8 have hardly started at this figure. Again the values for normal Turkish opium are all through at 3 per cent (only a few samples from the Malatya-Zile region, which is shown separately, are higher), whereas the samples from China, Korea, Mongolia, with only one exception, are well above this value.

This type of presentation has the most value in connexion with the codeine analysis of seized opium. Having found a value for the seizure sample, it can easily be seen what clusterings are in line with it, and what other groups might be regarded as possibilities. Other tests can then be applied to differentiate between regions that are possible, or most probable, on the basis of the codeine classification.

Codeine-porphyroxine charts

The comparative colorimetric values for the alkaloid "porphyroxine-meconidine" constitute another valuable

CHART 3 Distribution of the codeine percentages of opium for eight producing regions

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 3Distribution of the codeine percentages of opium for eight producing regions
  1. Greece and Yugoslavia

  2. Turkey, excluding Malatya and Zile

  3. Laos and Vietnam

  4. India

  5. Turkey, Malatya and Zile only

  6. Afghanistan

  7. Iran

  8. China, Korea, Mongolia

    Ordinates are the codeine percentages

    For each sample a spot is placed at the correct height for the codeine percentage according to the laboratory determination, and as close as possible, without overlapping, to the vertical line for the particular region.

means of determining the origin of opium. This very minor alkaloid varies significantly in the different kinds of opium. The porphyroxine values (as they will be called, for short, in this paper) are based on reading the red colour, which the alkaloid yields on heating in dilute mineral acid, in the Lovibond tintometer under certain standard conditions. The values are not percentages but constitute a comparative colorimetric determination.

A chart for the curves of porphyroxine values was given in "The Story of 'Porphyroxine-Meconidine'" Bulletin on Narcotics, volume IV, number 1. It corresponds to chart 1 for codeine, and looks rather similar, but the order of the countries or regions is different, Iran being the lowest.

The really interesting and important facts are brought out when the codeine percentages and porphyroxine values are considered together. The charts combining codeine percentages and porphyroxine values throw a strong new light on the problem of determining the origin.

In all the following charts a position is marked for each sample, considered according to its codeine percentage and its porphyroxine value, using the codeine percentage as ordinates and the porphyroxine values as abscissae. All these charts are on the same scale.

Chart 4 shows the positions of the export samples of India, Iran, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. It is seen that the export samples from Turkey and Yugoslavia come in exactly the same areas on the chart, but those from India and Iran form two other areas, entirely separate and distinct.

Charts 5 to 8 show all the available samples from China, Korea, and Mongolia (chart 5), India (chart 6), Iran (chart 7), and Turkey (chart 8), with the exception only of a few samples that were found to be adulterated or so substandard that they could not be compared with normal samples. It is easily seen that, in each case, the position of the samples on the chart is different and characteristic. The boundary lines are of course not absolute, but merely direct the eye to the area occupied by the scattered samples.

It is enlightening to superimpose each chart on the others, in turn. It will be found that while there is some overlapping of the indicated areas, in no case does the main clustering of samples for one area fall within the boundary of another one of these areas.

On chart 8 it is seen that Malatya and Zile, in Turkey, have to be treated as a separate producing region from the rest of Turkey, so far as the samples in the United Nations collection are concerned. Some Samples from Malatya and Zile are rather scattered on the chart, but the characteristic group is quite obviously at the far right of the chart (highest porphyroxine values) and with codeine between 2 and 4 per cent, whereas the main clustering of the samples of the usual Turkish opium is near the lower lefthand corner of the chart.

  1. Afghanistan

  2. China, Korea and Mongolia

  3. Greece

  4. India

  5. Iran

  6. Laos and Vietnam

  7. Turkey (excluding Malatya and Zile)

  8. Turkey (Malatya and Zile only)

  9. Yugoslavia

Ordinates: Codeine percentages

Abcissae: Porphyroxine values

CHART 4 Codein - porphyroxine values for samples of export opium from India, Iran, Turkey and Yugoslavia

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 4 Codein - porphyroxine values for samples of export opium from India, Iran, Turkey and Yugoslavia

CHART 5 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from China, Korea, Mongolia

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 5 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from China, Korea, Mongolia

CHART 6 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from India

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 6Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from India

CHART 7 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from Iran

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 7Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from Iran

CHART 8 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from Turkey

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 8 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from Turkey

CHART 9 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from three producing regions: Afghanistan, Laos and Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Greece

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 9 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from three producing regions: Afghanistan, Laos and Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Greece

CHART 10 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from five main producing regions: China, Korea, Mongolia, India, Iran, Turkey, excluding Zile and Malatya; Turkey, Zile and Malatya only

Full size image: 3 kB, CHART 10 Codeine - porphyroxine values for opium samples from five main producing regions: China, Korea, Mongolia, India, Iran, Turkey, excluding Zile and Malatya; Turkey, Zile and Malatya only

CHART 11 Codeine - porphyroxine values for fifteen samples of seizures of opium

Full size image: 2 kB, CHART 11 Codeine - porphyroxine values for fifteen samples of seizures of opium

On looking at chart 8, one may have the impression that the Turkish samples spread over nearly all of it, but if it is superimposed on charts 5, 6, and 7, it will be found that the main clustering of the other samples is well outside the Turkish areas and that the samples are not interspersed with each other to any significant degree.

Chart 9 shows three other producing regions represented all on one chart: Afghanistan, Indochina (Laos and Vietnam), and the Macedonian region of Yugoslavia and Greece. Only one sample is represented as "out of place", otherwise definitely separate areas on the chart can be assigned to the three distinct producing regions.

In chart 10 all the samples from the five main producing regions of charts 5 to 8 are represented on one chart. The boundaries now are rather arbitrary, but they show to what a great degree it is possible to draw dividing lines which clearly separate the samples from different regions, and yet have very few samples represented in the "wrong" area. If there were any real interspersion of samples, this would not be possible. The close relation of codeine and porphyroxine values to the origins of the opium is dramatically shown by this chart.

Use of the charts with seizure samples

If the co-ordinates-codeine percentage and porphyroxine value-are determined for a sample of seized opium, its position on chart 10, or on any of the other charts, can be easily noted. If it falls in an area of clustering of samples of a particular region, then (of course taking into account the general appearance of the opium and any known circumstances of the seizure) the origin of the opium may well be perfectly clear. Even if the position of a seizure sample on the chart is on or near a boundary line, or in an area where the various charts show that overlapping occurs, the possibilities as shown by the chart will be quite limited, and when the circumstances of the seizure are taken into account the origin may be determined.

Furthermore, additional tests are already in use, and still others are being studied, to decide the question whenever any doubt may still remain. The most important tests already in use are the microscopical examination with the polarizing microscope, and the morphine determination. The microscopic test will ordinarily distinguish clearly between the opium of Turkey and that of India, or of Iran. The morphine content is of especial importance in showing that the sample is within the usual range for opium of the region in question. When the morphine content shows the sample to be greatly substandard the charts are not applicable as they stand, but conclusions can still be drawn from the ratios of the other alkaloids to morphine and to each other.

Methods for narcotine and meconic acid in opium have been proposed by the Government Laboratory of the United Kingdom, and the Secretariat chemists are now working on thebaine and papaverine analyses, in order that still other methods will be available when needed.

Chart 11 shows the positions on a codeine-porphyroxine chart of fifteen seizure samples attributable to India, Iran, and Turkey. In most of these cases there was also other evidence of the origin, besides the laboratory examination, but as the chart shows, the chemical evidence can be quite convincing even by itself.

CONCLUSIONS

It should not be too much to say that the determination of the origin of seized opium by physical and chemical means is now a reality. Of course, this does not mean that the origin of all seizure samples can be distinguished at the present stage of the research; it does mean that the origin of some seizures can be told now, while the origin of some others may remain in doubt even after the laboratory examination. Although some conclusions might be expressed in terms of probabilities, this is not the aim of the research. Rather, the aim is to prove the origin in specific cases "beyond a reasonable doubt". This does not mean that the origin will or can be proved by laboratory methods beyond all possible doubt, but that the evidence assembled will be entirely convincing to reasonable men. With additional tests available the proportion of seizures samples for which the origin can be determined should be increased, and the demonstrations should be even more convincing. To this end the opium studies are continuing as an international research programme.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

01

"Opium Production Throughout the World", Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. 1. no 1, October 1949

02

"Determining the Origins of Opium", Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. 1. no 1, October 1949

03

United Nations document E/CN 7/117, 14 April 1948 A, "On determining the Country of Origin of Opium"; C, "Photomicrographs of Opium Crystals"; D, "Some Minor alkaloids of Opium, Alkaloid 1, &lsquoPorphyroxine-Meconidine&rsquo"

04

United Nations document E/CN 7/117/Add.1, 22 September 1948 "Opium Alkaloids, Codeine"

05

United Nations document E/CN 7/117/Add2, 22 September 1948. "Examination of Opium for Distinguishing Characteristics, Some Tentative Methods".

06

United Nations document E/CN 7/195, 22 March 1950, "The Comparative Determination of 'Porphyroxine-Meconidine' (in Opium)"

07

United Nations document E/CN 7/202, 18 September 1950, "Determination of Codeine in the Lime-Water Extract (of Opium)".

08

United Nations document E/CN 7/207, 19 October 1950, "Further Data on 'Porphyroxine-Meconidine'", by C. G. Farmilo and P. M L Kennett (Canada).

09

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/1, 25 January 1951, "The Determination of Morphine in Opium by Extraction: A New Method".

10

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER.K/2, 11 June 1951 "The Forms of Crystals in Turkish Opium", by Ala?ddin Akcasu (Turkey).

11

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER.K/3, 1 August 1951, "The Determination of Morphine in Raw Opium", by Erich Knaffl-Lenz (Austria).

12

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/4, 11 September 1951, "'Porphyroxine-Meconidine' in Relation to the Origin of Opium"

13

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/5, 24 September 1951, "The Ratio of Narcotine to Meconic Acid in Relation to the Origin of Opium (Preliminary Report from the Government Laboratory, London, England)" By J. R Nicholls and E G Kellett (United Kingdom).

14

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/6, 24 September 1951, "The Determination of Narcotine and Meconic Acid in Opium Second Method". By J. R Nicholls and E G Kellett (United Kingdom).

15

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/7, 24 September 1951, "The Determination of Narcotine and Meconic Acid in Opium Third Method". By J R Nicholls and E. G. Kellett (United Kingdom)

16

United Nations document ST/SOA/SER K/8 "Codeine and Codeine-Porphyroxine Charts in Relation to the Origin of Opium"

17

"The Story of 'Porphyroxine-Meconidine'" Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. 4, no 1, January 1952