Analysis of heroin seized in France

Sections

ABSTRACT
Introduction
Method
Results
Concluding remarks

Details

Author: H. CHAUDRON-THOZET , J. GIRARD , J.J. DAVID
Pages: 29 to 33
Creation Date: 1992/01/01

Analysis of heroin seized in France

H. CHAUDRON-THOZET
J. GIRARD
J.J. DAVID
Interregional Forensic Science Laboratory, Lyon, France

ABSTRACT

Because of the increase in heroin trafficking in France, it was decided that data on samples of heroin seized in the country would be filed in a computer in the Interregional Forensic Science Laboratory at Lyon. The computer file has made it possible to identify certain physical and chemical similarities among samples of seized heroin. According to the data in the computer file, the colour, purity, diluents etc. of the heroin offered on the street has changed significantly since 1987. The Laboratory will be in a better position to identify the geographical sources of heroin seized in France once samples of seized heroin have been obtained directly from their countries of origin.

Introduction

In view of the increase in heroin and cocaine trafficking in France, it was considered desirable for all analytical data on samples of seized heroin and cocaine to be centralized by placing such data in a computerized file in a single laboratory. Of the five forensic science laboratories in the country, located in the cities of Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris and Toulouse, the one at Lyon was chosen to file the data.

Thus, in 1986, in close collaboration with the French Central Office for Combating Illicit Drug Trafficking (OCRTIS), a system was established that now deals with both heroin and cocaine seizures.

The computerized file was to have two functions:

  1. To permit the cross-checking of seizures, thus tentatively identifying channels of supply;

  2. To locate the geographical sources of heroin seized on French territory.

It has been possible to cross-check seizures. It is taking longer and proving more difficult, however, to fulfil the second function, owing to a lack of accurate and up-to-date analytical data on the characteristics of heroin originating from various countries.

Method

Numerous methods for analysing samples of heroin have been described. They generally make use of chromatographic techniques.

Comparative studies of various methods of analysis have been undertaken [1-6]. It appears that the best results are given by capillary gas chromatography, alone or in combination with mass spectrometry [7-12]. High-performance liquid chromatography is also very promising [13).

The prime purpose of this work is to enable the samples to be studied in great detail [14-20) so that the geographical areas of heroin production can be determined. Classifications have already been made by the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States of America [ 21] , by the German Bundeskriminalamt [ 22] and by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland [ 23] .

Results

The results are based on the 980 heroin samples analysed in the Interregional Forensic Science Laboratory at Lyon in 1991. Most (69 per cent) of the samples looked like fine powder; the rest were more granular.

A colour code developed in the Laboratory was used to determine the colour of each sample. The most commonly found colours were beige (30 per cent), light beige (27 per cent), white (24 per cent), off-white (10 per cent) and dark beige (4.4 per cent). Less common colours included orange beige, brown, grey, pink beige, khaki green and yellow.

Each sample was chemically analysed to ascertain whether it contained basic or hydrochlorate heroin or both, to determine the concentration of heroin and to identify diluents and impurities. Of the analysed samples, 55 per cent contained basic heroin, 37 per cent contained hydrochlorate heroin and 8 per cent contained basic and hydrochlorate heroin.

Some 80 per cent of the samples had a pure heroin content of less than 50 per cent.

The main diluents found in the samples were as follows (percentages refer to the share of the samples in which they were found): caffeine (67 per cent), paracetamol (40 per cent), mannitol (35 per cent), lactose (15 per cent) and saccharose (15 per cent). Among the 17 other diluents found were glucose, procaine, phenobarbital, lidocaine, methaqualone, citric acid, piracetam, lysine acetylsalicylate, ascorbic acid and phenolphthalein.

According to the analysis, the heroin most often seized in France in 1991 could be characterized as follows: a fine beige powder with a pure heroin content of less than 50 per cent-basic heroin containing meconin and carbonates and diluted with caffeine and paracetarnol. That description contrasts sharply with that of the heroin most often seized in the country in 1987: a pink beige granular powder with a pure heroin content of less than 30 per cent-hydrochlorate heroin of good quality, mainly diluted with caffeine. That type of heroin is hardly ever found on the illicit market today.

Characteristics of heroin seized in France, 1991

Colour

Form

Appearance of the powder

Assumed Country of Origin

Diluents and other substances

Beige
Basic
Fine
Pakistan
Carbonates a
     
Turkey
Caffeine
     
India
Paracetamol
       
Meconin b
Light beige
Basic
Fine
Lebanon
Carbonates a
     
Turkey
Caffeine
     
Pakistan
Paracetamol
       
Meconin b
White
Hydrochlorate
Fine
Thailand
Caffeine
       
Mannitol
       
Lactose
       
Saccharose
Off-white
Hydrochlorate
Fine
Thailand
Caffeine
       
Mannitol
       
Lactose
       
Carbonates a
Dark beige
Basic
Granular
...
Carbonates a
       
Paracetamol
       
Caffeine
       
Meconin b

# Note: Data are listed in decreasing order of frequency.

aManufacturing residues.

bA secondary alkaloid of opium.

Another recent development involved the choice of diluents. In 1987, caffeine, and mannitol were the most frequently used diluents, followed by phenobarbital, methaqualone, phenolphthalein, glucose and lactose. Today, paracetamol has replaced caffeine and mannitol, whereas phenobarbital, methaqualone and phenolphthalein are hardly ever used. The use of paracetamol is frequent and rapidly increasing: in 1991, 43 per cent of the heroin samples analysed contained paracetamol, compared with 20 per cent of the samples analysed in 1990 and 0 per cent of the samples analysed in 1987.

Concluding remarks

The Lyon National File of Narcotic Drugs contains 3,200 heroin entries and 520 cocaine entries, based on the analysis of about 8,000 samples. Work is well under way on extending the File to other European countries.

The precise identification of geographical areas of production of seized heroin is not feasible at the present time. The difficulty lies in obtaining a large number of samples of known origin.

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