This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
August 22nd, 2002
Bitter Harvest
From Poppy to Heroin: Step 3: Extracting Morphine

An Afghan farmer sells a bag of raw opium in an opium shop in Helmand province in western Afghanistan.

(Photo: AP)

Raw opium, which has a strong odor that can be easily detected by customs officials, must be converted into morphine base before it can be transported out of the country. To create morphine base, the opium is added to boiling water. The raw opium dissolves into a clear brown liquid or “liquid opium.” Plant scrapings and other impurities float to the top to be scooped up. Slaked lime is then added to the liquid so that the morphine alkaloid reacts with the lime to form a solution. The solution is poured through a filter to remove any impurities, such as other alkaloids, that have sunk to the bottom. Concentrated ammonia is added to the solution and is then reheated. The morphine solidifies and settles at the bottom of the pot. A cloth is used to filter out the solid white chunks of morphine base. The morphine base, also known as “Heroin No. 1,” which makes up about 10 percent of the original quantity of raw opium, is wrapped into blocks and dried out in the sun. The blocks are now ready to be shipped to heroin laboratories.

Sources: US Department of Justice, “Opium: A History” by Martin Booth, “Unholy Wars” by John Cooley, National Institutes of Health, UNDCP

Photo: Reuters

Heroin Facts

When injected, heroin creates an instantaneous rush that lasts only a few seconds. Drowsiness ensues, followed by a sense of contentment and detachment from the world. Short-term side affects may include nausea, vomiting, and depressed respiration. Since tolerance quickly builds up, the user must increase the dose to create a high, eventually leading to addiction. Heroin addicts may inject up to four times a day and over time will experience weight loss and malnutrition from a decrease in appetite brought on by the drug. Heroin abuse can also lead to collapsed veins, abscesses, lung complications and miscarriages. Iran has the highest number of heroin addicts as a percentage of its population in the world.

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2021 WNET.ORG Properties LLC. All rights reserved.