Heroin-caffeine-strychnine mixtures- Where and why?

Sections

Introduction
Discussion
Conclusions

Details

Author: D. ESKES, J.K. BROWN
Pages: 67 to 69
Creation Date: 1975/01/01

Heroin-caffeine-strychnine mixtures- Where and why?

D. ESKES Laboratory of the Municipal Police of Amsterdam, Elandsgracht 117, Amsterdam, Netherlands
J.K. BROWN School of Pharmacy, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California 95207, U.S.A.

Introduction

"The non-medical use of opium and its derivatives is most widespread in certain countries east of the Mediterranean and in South-East Asia, despite the publicity given to the situation in North America. In the past twenty years there has been a substantial shift from the use of opium to heroin in some of those countries where total prohibition of the use of opium was undertaken. This was especially true in those areas where there were many persons whose custom it was to use opium for its intoxicating properties as well as for the relief of pain." [ 1]

Even though heroin use may be more widespread in areas other than North America and Europe, there appears to be an increasing demand for this material in parts of the Western World. The seizures of illicit heroin by the police in the Netherlands have increased from 50 gm. in 1971, 2,297 gm. in 1972 to 18.8 kg. in the first three quarters of 1973 [ 2] . Subsequent seizures in Amsterdam would suggest that this trend is continuing.

The illicit heroin samples seen in the laboratory of the municipal police of Amsterdam, during 1972 and most of 1973, were usually white powders containing varying concentrations of heroin (40 to 95 percent). Then in December of 1973 a dramatic change took place in both the physical appearance and the composition of the heroin seized by the Amsterdam police. These materials were grey or brownish-pink granules. The granules were usually 1-3 mm. but occasionally 5-6 mm. in length, usually packed in heat-sealed plastic bags (c. 8 x 10 cm.). These packages contained approximately 15 or 30 gm. of either grey or pink-brown granules. The colour was not an indication of composition. Analyses of these materials gave the following results:

Type 1.
Heroin
50 - 70
per cent
 
Caffeine
30 - 50
"
Type 2.
Heroin
50 - 70
per cent
 
Caffeine
30 - 45
"
 
Strychnine
0.5 - 10
"

The strychnine was usually identified as the hydrochloride.

For the past three and a half years in Amsterdam the Department of Pharmacy, University Hospital, Wilhemina Gasthuis has been analysing heroin samples for treatment centres in the city. The results were similar to those of the Amsterdam police [3,4]. But then in December of 1973 the heroin samples submitted to the University Hospital were found to contain either heroin-caffeine or heroin-caffeine-strychnine in the grey or pink-brown granules. Quantitative analysis of these heroin samples [ 5] showed an average heroin content of approximately 40 per cent (range 10 to 60 per cent), caffeine approximately 50 per cent (range 35 to 63 per cent) and the strychnine-containing samples had an average of 2 per cent strychnine (range 0.5 to 4.8 per cent).

During May, June and the first half of July 1974 the Amsterdam police made 49 seizures of illicit heroin, packaged for the street market, 28 (57 per cent) of these seizures contained strychnine in addition to heroin and caffeine, 21 samples contained heroin and caffeine only. Subsequent seizures of illicit heroin have shown upon analysis a similar pattern.

Discussion

We were of the opinion that these mixtures were prepared in the country of origin and further, that the heroin was not diluted for profit but was prepared for some method of use other than by injection. Injection is the usual method of administration by addicts in the Netherlands. Consequently we wrote to 14 different forensic laboratories (representing 8 countries) asking if their laboratory had had any experience with these types of heroin. Also information was requested about the methods of use of this material in the countries contacted. Four replies were received: one was negative, one reported familiarity with greyish granules which consisted of heroin (40 to 60 per cent) and caffeine (60 to 40 per cent) but no strychnine. Another reply reported familiarity with granualar heroin but the composition and colours were quite different from the heroin seized in Amsterdam and strychnine had never been detected. The fourth reply [ 6] was the most informative.

"The granules that you describe are similar to those which are made in Hong Kong. Here they are known as No. 3 heroin. They are consumed by smoking, the process being termed as chasing the dragon'....

"With regard to the composition of the granules, it is true that a strychnine salt is occasionally added .... The heroin, incidentally, is present as the hydro-chloride." [ 6]

Current evidence [ 6] would suggest that this granular heroin seen in Amsterdam was prepared for smoking purposes but has "escaped" into those illicit markets where intravenous injection is the usual method of use.

Pharmacological data could not be found to assess the effects of injecting solutions of these heroin mixtures. The amount of strychnine in the strychnine-containing heroin samples is probably insufficient to be a threat to life. It is estimated that 50 to 100 mg. of these mixtures is used for a single injection. Thus the amount of strychnine injected each time would probably not exceed 5 mg. For an adult, the lethal dose of orally ingested strychnine is reported to be between 60 and 100 mg. [ 7]

Conclusions

The reasons for the addition of caffeine, and sometimes strychnine, to heroin prepared for smoking are apparently not known. The presence of small amounts of strychnine in some illicit heroin used for injection by European addicts is probably not life-threatening to the user. it has been stated that strychnine is very readily and rapidly destroyed, primarily in the liver. The rate of destruction is such that the equivalent of two lethal doses can be given over a period of 24 hours without noticeable toxic symptoms or cumulative effects [ 8] . But, if the amount of strychnine in these samples was increased the possibility of strychnine poisoning could become a reality.

Current knowledge [ 6] would suggest that these heroin mixtures are prepared in the country of origin. There is no evidence that they are prepared in Europe.

References

001

D. C. Cameron. "Drug Dependence: Current Trends". Presented at the Second Special Session of the Consultative Group on Social Problems of Children and Youth of the International Union for Child Welfare, Amersfoort, The Netherlands, 22 April, 1974.

002

Anon. "Drugbeleid". Algemeen Politieblad , 123(4): 75-77 (1974).

003

J.C. Filedt Kok, P. E. Kamp and R. A. van Welsum. "The Results of the Street-Drug Identification Program in Amsterdam". Pacific Information Service on Street-Drugs , 2:35-39 (1973).

004

J.C. Filedt Kok. Proc. Int. Symp. Alcohol and Drugs Res. , "Street Drug Analysis and Its Social and Clinical Implications", October 15-18, 1973. Addiction Research Foundation, Toronto, Canada. In press.

005

J. K. Brown, M. H. Malone, J. C. Filedt Kok, and P. E. Kamp. "Street Drug Composition in the United States and Europe-Similarities & Differences." Proc. 5th International Institute on the Prevention and Treatment of Drug Dependence . Copenhagen, Denmark, July 8-12, 1974. In press.

006

A.J. Nutten, Personal Communication. Hong Kong Government Laboratory, Oil Street, North Point, Hong Kong, 1974.

007

E. G. C. Clarke, Editor. Isolation and Identification of Drugs. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, p. 545, 1969.

008

D.W. Esplin and B. Zablocka-Esplin. "Central Nervous System Stimulants". In: L.S. Goodman and A. Gilman, Editors. The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics , 4th edition. New York: The MacMillan Co., pp. 348-350, 1970.