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Where Does Heroin Come From?
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Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin Opium ProductionWhere does heroin come from? Heroin is refined from the milky juice of the opium poppy, which is grown legally for medical purposes in north-eastern Tasmania. Most illegal supplies reaching this country originate in Afghanistan and south-east Asia, particularly northern Thailand and Burma. Heroin is one of the most addictive substances known.

Codeine, pethidine, morphine and oxycodone are all derived from heroin and can be abused if taken regularly or excessively. These substances are collectively called narcotics. Codeine and oxycodone are found in low doses in many readily available pain-killers, diarrhea medications and cough mixtures. Codeine in higher doses, along with pethidine and morphine, are used by doctors as tablets or injections to relieve severe pain after operations, in cancer patients, and in other similar situations.

Where does heroin come from? The history of heroin begins with the opium poppy being cultivated in lower Mesopotamia as long ago as 3400 BC. The chemical analysis of opium in the 19th century revealed that most of its activity could be ascribed to two ingredients, codeine and morphine.

Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 by C.R. Alder Wright, an English chemist working at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, England. He had been experimenting with combining morphine with various acids. He boiled anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride over a stove for several hours and produced a more potent, acetylated form of morphine, now called diacetylmorphine. The compound was sent to F.M. Pierce of Owens College in Manchester for analysis.

However, Wright's invention did not lead to any further developments. Heroin's fame would only begin to grow after it was independently re-synthesized 23 years later by another chemist, Felix Hoffmann. Hoffman was working at the Bayer pharmaceutical company in Elberfeld, Germany, where the head of his laboratory was Heinrich Dreser. Dreser instructed Hoffmann to acetylate morphine, with the objective of producing codeine, a natural derivative of the opium poppy, similar to morphine but less potent and held to be less addictive. But instead of producing codeine, the experiment produced a substance that was actually three times more potent than morphine. Heroin history shows that Bayer would name the substance "heroin", probably from the word heroisch, German for heroic, because in field studies people using the medicine felt "heroic".

Where does heroin come from? From 1898 through to 1910 the drug was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough medicine for children. Bayer marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction before it was discovered that heroin is converted to morphine when metabolized in the liver. The company was somewhat embarrassed by this new finding and it became a historical blunder for Bayer. Heroin history notes that as with aspirin, Bayer lost some of its trademark rights to heroin following the German defeat in World War I.

In the United States, the history of heroin was changed by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. This Tax Act was passed in 1914 to control the sale and distribution of heroin. The law did allow heroin to be prescribed and sold for medical purposes. In particular, addicts could often still be legally supplied with heroin. In 1924, the United States Congress passed additional legislation banning the sale, importation or manufacture of heroin in the United States. It is now a Schedule I substance, and is thus illegal for all purposes.

Where does heroin come from? Today, heroin comes from many places: China, Mexico, the mountains around the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan and other countries. Heroin is made in several different ways but they all come back to a single base substance which is morphine. Morphine comes from Opium, the resinous substance found inside the fruit of the opium poppy. Once the opium is harvested, its three main alkaloids (alkaloids are basically a biochemical found in plants) are separated into:

  1. Morphine
  2. Codeine
  3. Thebaine

Opium poppies grow best in dry, warm climates and they are mostly grown in these areas by farmers with small plots of land. The sap is collected by the farmer, then it's bought by a merchant or broker who takes the opium to a morphine refinery. The opium is refined into morphine base and then reacted with acetic anhydride, a chemical also used in the production of aspirin. Most black market heroin is highly impure due to contaminants left after refinement of opium into morphine, which then remain in the final product.


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