Heroin, which is derived from the infamous opium poppy, has had a very long and arduous journey to North American streets which begins with the planting of opium poppy seeds. The flower's original botanical name is papaver somniferum otherwise better known as opium poppies.
The opium poppy flower is cultivated mainly by very poor farmers in remote regions of the world. It flourishes in warm and dry weather climates and a large number of opium poppies are grown in a narrow, 4,500 square mile range of mountains stretching across southern Asia. This expands all the way from Turkey to Pakistan and even Laos. The addictive drug heroin has been increasingly become a main export from areas such as Latin America and most distinctly Colombia.
Approximately 3-4 months after the opium poppy seeds are planted, vividly bright colorful flowers sprout at the tips of green colored tubular stems. Once the petals fall off they expose an oval shaped poppy seed pod. Inside this opium poppy pod is an opaque and milky sap like substance which is opium in its rawest form.
The milky sap is extracted by creating incisions in the opium poppy pod in vertical parallel strokes with a unique curved knife. After the sap starts to ooze out and become exposed to the air, it will start becoming darker and thicker, forming a blackish brown gum like substance. A farmer can collect the sticky gum with an ordinary scraping knife, bundle it into ball, brick or cake and then wrap them in leaves or plastic.
After it has been processes in this way then the opium will begin to make its journey into the black market. A buyer will purchase the packages and then transport them to a morphine refinery. The majority of opium poppy traffickers complete their morphine refining not too far from the poppy fields because morphine bricks are much easier to smuggle than big bundles of jelly like opium.
At the refinery the raw opium is poured into boiling water and then mixed with lime. The heavier organic waste will sink to the bottom and what remains on the surface is a white band of morphine forms. This is then drawn off, reheated with ammonia, filtered and boiled again until it is transformed into a thick brown paste.
The brown paste is then poured into waiting molds and set out to be dried in the heat of the sun. It then becomes a morphine base which has the consistency of dense structure of clay. Morphine base is actually smokeable in a pipe or can be used for further processing into heroin.
The next phase involves purification which requires both ether and hydrochloric acid. One has to be incredibly careful as the volatile ether gas may ignite and produce a violent explosion. If done correctly, and without error, the final product is a clean white powder known in the black market industry as heroin.
After the opium poppy heroin comes forth from these laboratories, which can be from countries such as Bangkok or Hong Kong, it will enter into a complicated multi-layered chain of distribution. Top high end dealers usually deal in large bulk shipments of 20 to 100 kilos or more. A distributor in New York might divide a bulk shipment into wholesale lots of 1 to 10 kilos for sale to underlings within the black market. One kilo of Southeast Asian opium poppy heroin in 1997 is estimated to cost anywhere from $100,000 to $120,000.
Once the opium poppy heroin is distributed on regular city streets in small convenient bags, usually sold for $5-$100, its value has increased more than 10x since its arrival in the North American market, primarily in the USA.
Not too long ago practically all the heroin sold on the United States streets were so massively diluted that it was rarely more than 10% pure. The purity of opium poppy heroin has risen sharply in the middle of the 19th century whose average increase to around 50-60% as dealers have attempted to broaden their market beyond regular addicts who inject heroin with hypodermic needles. The higher the purity means that you can actually inhale or smoke it so that you don't have the threat of AIDS or those horrible intravenous needles.
Greater purity heroin, derived from opium poppies, also emulates a much higher level of worldwide production of opium poppy heroin. In recent years the prohibited output of raw opium, from opium poppies, totaled a record of about 4,300 tons, which is an incredible increase of almost 1000 tons since 1992, according to American estimates.
Who would have thought something as innocent as opium poppy seeds could be harvested to grow into a such a huge black market industry. When you realize that every 10 tons of raw opium, produced from opium poppies, reduces to only one ton of heroin it quickly becomes apparent that the numbers can quickly become staggering. In other words, the worldwide opium poppy output in just one year, 1996, converts into 430 tons of heroin and approximately 1/2 of that is directed towards the United States of America.