The smoking of heroin in Hong Kong

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Pages: 6 to 7
Creation Date: 1958/01/01

Chasing the dragon

The smoking of heroin in Hong Kong

Information transmitted for publication by the Government of the United Kingdom; furnished by the Government of Hong Kong

The expression " chasing the dragon " is now a widely known and established idiom used in narcotic circles in this colony in connexion with the smoking of heroin. In those parts of the world which, like Hong Kong, suffer from a heroin addiction problem, the popular form of absorbing this type of drug is by means of injection. The hypodermic syringe is not a common feature of local heroin traffic, and our addicts on the whole continue to be shy of the needle. In Hong Kong, where heroin has now superseded opium as the main drug of addiction, the traditional form of smoking has been retained by addicts who indulge in the use of this drug.

Narcotic retailers normally sell very crude heroin in small plain or coloured cellophane packets costing H K $0.50, $1 or $2. The average weight of the powder in these packets is approximately 0.032, 0.063 and 0.126 g respectively. The cheapness of this commodity indicates that the heroin being sold in this form is of a crude quality and is therefore unfit for injection purposes. The large majority of addicts in Hong Kong cannot afford to purchase high-grade heroin, and to overcome this economic factor a method known as " chasing the dragon " has been adopted to satisfy their needs.

Fine heroin powder has a tendency to run into a single mass when heat is applied. The outside of this mass then becomes charred and tends to protect the inner portion of the mass from heat, thus preventing complete combustion, but naturally resulting in a certain wastage. For smoking, therefore, crude heroin in rough granular form is preferred by the local heroin addicts and is available in packages as outlined above. With each purchase, the retailers also issue a base powder commonly known as " daai fan ". This is generally one of the barbiturates, usually also in grain form, the purpose of which is to prolong the effects of the heroin and to aid sublimation of the heroin when heat is applied.

The implements required for the purpose of smoking consist of a piece of tinfoil of the size found in the average cigarette packet, a paper tube similar to a drinking straw, some cardboard spills and a small lamp. The tinfoil is first smoothed out with a bone or metal instrument until it attains a high polish. It is then folded in half and the heroin and base powder are placed in the crease about half an inch apart. A cardboard spill is then lit and the flame is applied to the tinfoil directly underneath the base powder which liquefies and mixes with the heroin. The tinfoil is then tilted back and forth whilst the flame is applied directly under the crease; at the same time the smoker directs the paper tube which is held in his mouth over the tinfoil and inhales the fumes emanating from the heated mixture.

To obtain the best effect the paper pipe chases the" smoky tail" of the liquid which is moving back and forth in the tinfoil trough until nothing is left on the tinfoil except a black stain. With the usual local aptitude for a turn of phrase this whole procedure has been called " chui lung " or " chasing the dragon ".

This simple method of consuming heroin dispenses with pipes and other paraphernalia normally utilized in the smoking of opium and heroin pills. As the minute quantities of crude heroin and base powder are cheap, easy to conceal or throw away, the chances of the addict's being arrested with incriminating evidence in his possession are greatly lessened.

A pharmacological investigation and evaluation of the effects of combined barbiturate and heroin inhalation by addicts who employ this method of smoking heroin has been specially made in connexion with the preparation of this article by Dr. Carl C. Gruhzit, M.D., Ph.D., Lecturer in Pharmacology in the University of Hong Kong.[1]

This photograph shows the materials necessary for smoking heroin. The man is holding in his hands a folded piece of tinfoil containing a mixture of heroin and base powder. The cardboard spill which he uses to heat the mixture is held between the fingers of his right hand, and the paper tube through which the smoke is inhaled is held in his mouth. The lamp on the table is used to light the spills. To the right of the lamp may be seen two small pieces of cellophane paper. One holds heroin, the other " daai fan ".

Full size image: 125 kB, This photograph shows the materials necessary for smoking heroin

This photograph shows, in the left foreground, a piece of tinfoil containing a mixture of "daai fan" and heroin. The man on the right is cutting up cigarette packets for use as spills. In front of him may be seen a tinfoil trough containing a large blob of heroin and base powder already mixed and liquefied. Farther along the table may be seen two of the paper tubes used to inhale the fumes of the drug.

Full size image: 64 kB, This photograph shows, in the left foreground, a piece of tinfoil containing a mixture of

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