Pocket kit for the detection of the commonest narcotic drugs


Istituto Supe riore Di Sanità Rome, 1962


Pages: 25 to 26
Creation Date: 1962/01/01

Pocket kit for the detection of the commonest narcotic drugs

By Giuseppe Pruner

Istituto Supe riore Di Sanità Rome, 1962

The officials and inspectors engaged in the suppression of narcotic drug trafficking are known to lack a suitable means for the rapid and reliable detection of the commonest drugs. They are often compelled, in the middle of an operation, to seek help from a chemical laboratory in order to identify a suspicious substance; this involves loss of time, which may jeopardize the success of the whole operation. What is even more annoying, an innocuous substance may be deemed to be a narcotic drug, and its innocuousness may not be promptly recognized.

These difficulties are encountered in all countries; in Italy, for example, the only practical instrument available for use by the control officials is a phial of Marquis reagent (formalin in a concentration of sulphuric acid), which does not remain active for long, and is dangerous to use because of its caustic nature. Another drawback is that the Marquis reagent does not react to cocaine, and cannot therefore be used for its identification.

The "pocket kit", in a leather case similar to a wallet, 16x11x2 cm in size, contains the reagents needed for the identification of the commonest narcotic drugs - i.e., morphine, heroin (also put up in phials), cocaine and opium.

The various reagents have been selected and studied so as to ensure their stability and innocuouness when suitably diluted.

One of the chief advantages of the pocket kit is that it permits the examination with the reagents available of a substance with more than one reaction. For the detection of morphine and heroin, chain reactions (polyreactions) of S. Guarino are used [ Boll. Soc. Ital. Biol. Sper., 21, 253 (1945)], which are specific to morphine.

An innovation in the field of analysis is the possibility of producing such reactions on paper with powder reagents.



  1. Modified Zernik reagent; prepared by mixing together equal parts of concentrated nitric acid and water

  2. Solution of sodium hydrate: approximately 0.1 N

  3. Solution of hydrochloric acid: approximately 0.1 N

A. Distilled water


B. Sodium bicarbonate

C. Calomel (mercurous chloride)

J. Iodic acid

F. Ferric alum

P. Potassium permanganate


It should be borne in mind that only very small quantities of the substance to be examined and of the liquid and solid reagents are to be used.

The substance, moreover, may be divided into three parts. The first (and smallest) is used for the preliminary reaction to reagent No. 1; the second, which is larger, is used for the subsequent reactions; and the third for the laboratory analysis.

Preliminary Tests with Reagent No. 1

Using the spatula, a trace of the substance to be examined is placed on a sheet of paper and tested with two drops of R.1. If after a few seconds it turns red, the probability is that morphine is present; but if there is a yellowish green spot, it is probably heroin. Cocaine, on the other hand, gives no colour reaction.


In the first place, having obtained a red spot with R.1, the procedure for the identification of morphine is as follows. A larger quantity of the substance is placed on two thicknesses of paper and R. J and a few drops of A (water) are added in order to dissolve the reagent. An orange-red spot is formed, which becomes deeper in colour when R.B and A are added. Finally, a violet spot is obtained by the addition of R.F and A. Observation of the spots which have filtered through to the second sheet of paper clearly shows the three coloured zones. These chain reactions are specifically those of morphine.


A yellowish green spot having been obtained with R. 1, the detection of heroin is undertaken, after its conversion to morphine, by heat hydrolysis, using one of the small tubes attached to the pocket kit. After placing a little of the substance in the tube, about ten drops of R.2 are added and heated until bubbles form in the liquid. After treating, the liquid is diluted with about fifteen drops of R.3. When R.J is added to the tube, the same reaction is obtained as for morphine - i.e., an orange-red colour. A little of this coloured liquid is poured on to a small quantity of R.B placed on two thicknesses of paper, and the colour then becomes deeper. As with morphine, R.F produces a violet colour.

The same reagents can be used for the detection of phials of morphine and heroin. One phial is opened and R.J added; if there is colouring, the morphine is identified by the two reactions on paper with R.B and R.F. In the case of a negative reaction with R.J, a small quantity of liquid from a second phial is poured into one of the two attached tubes; R.2 is added; the tube is heated; the mixture diluted with R.3; and the two reactions with R.B and R.F are produced on the paper as described above.


If no reaction is obtained with R.1, the presence of cocain may be assumed; this is identified by a thorough dry mixing on paper of the substance with R.C, using the spatula. A grey spot which, with the addition of water, forms a black ring may suggest the presence of cocaine, unless the same reactions are produced by novocaine (a local anaesthetic, not a narcotic drug). [ 1]

In order to distinguish it from cocaine, use is made of R.P, which, when mixed with the substance to be examined in a small quantity and treated with water, gives a brown spot in the case of novocaine, whereas with cocaine it retains its violet colour.


On two thicknesses of paper a small quantity of the substance is first mixed with a few drops of water, then more water is added in order to soak the second sheet on which the first reaction with R.F is produced; this, after the addition of water, gives a reddish violet spot


The presence of morphine may be detected by examination of the first sheet with R.1, which, when dropped round the opium, forms a red ring somewhat similar to the spot produced by morphine.

Detection of Bicarbonate

Since this substance is sometimes fraudulently sold as a narcotic drug, it is useful to remember that, when R.1 is added, it effervesces.

Key for the pocket kit

Morphine Heroin Cocaine
red yellowish-green yellowish-green
After heat hydrolosis with R.2 and dilution with R.3, heroin gives the same reactions as morphine with J+B+F
MorphineMorphine Morphine
orange-red dark orange-red violet
For phials of morphine and heroin, the same reagents J+ B + F are used, for heroin in solution, after prior heating with R.2 and dilution with R.3 in a small tube.
Opium Opium
reddish violet red
Grey morphine similar in appearance to opium, does not react to F; with R.1 the reaction is positive.
Cocaine Cocaine Cocaine Novocaine
grey black violet brown
Novocaine gives the same reactions as cocaine and can be distinguished from it by using reagent P.

In this particular case, a metal spatula must not be used after the addition of water to the mixture.