Thursday, 14th December 2017

Heroin Opiates

Opium in the UK

Opium is the raw exudate of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which is scraped from the scored seed head of the poppy, which contains a number of alkaloids including morphine and codeine.

Opium is most commonly used as a raw material for the extraction of morphine base, which in turn is treated chemically to produce diacetylmorphine (heroin). Opium may be smoked or eaten, but is rarely found within the UK.

 

Prevalence

Table 1 shows the number of opium seizures by police and customs since 1990. There is no significant organised market in raw Opium in the UK. Since 1990, there has been an average of 40 opium seizures per year, mostly from HM Customs, with an average quantity seized of 416 grams per seizure (399 seizures involving 166 kilos over 10 years). In recent years the number of seizures has been falling, although the quantity seized has been increasing.

 

Table 1 - UK Opium Seizures over 10 years 1990-99

Year

99

98

97

96

95

94

93

92

91

90

Total

No. of Seizures

22

35

30

23

36

35

65

57

49

47

399

Quantity (kg)

37.7

54.6

17.8

11.4

5.5

11.2

8.2

3.8

8.0

7.6

165.8

 

Use of opium is becoming more common (18% of users in 1998-2000 IDMU surveys), although for the vast majority this involves a single use or on a small number of occasions. In our 1984 survey, 6.7% of a sample of 608 recreational drug users had used the drug on at least one occasion.

 

Consumption

Table 2 shows the distribution of experimental, occasional, regular and daily users, and ages of initiation. The daily users would be consuming between 0.5 and 3 grams per day, depending on the quantity purchased at any one time.

 

Table 2 - Frequency, Spending and Initiation to Opium

Frequency of use

n

%

Avg Monthly Spending

Age first use

n

%

Experimental

711

12.52%

£10.76

<16

90

7%

Occasional

140

2.47%

£22.77

16-19

427

35%

Regular

16

0.28%

£30.00

20-24

454

38%

Daily

4

0.07%

£193.33

25-29

168

14%

Total sample

5677

100.0%

-

30-39

60

5%

Total ever

1059

18.65%

-

40+

8

1%

 

It may be possible, in theory, to extract the morphine base from the opium, and hence produce a quantity of heroin as a result. It would be unreasonable to speculate on a precise potential value of heroin which could be produced from the opium seized in the absence of forensic evidence as to the proportion by weight of the substance attributable to morphine, from which a potential yield and value of heroin could be calculated. In the last century the range of morphine content in opium was 1% to 20%, although 5% to 12% would be typical values.

There are very few other reports of opium use in the UK or in modern societies. However, medicinal products containing opium were widely available in the UK from the 19th Century and in the UK until the 1960s under trade names such as "Dovers Powders". Dovers Powders were stated to have an active dose of between 1/4 and 1/2 gram of raw opium. The Earl of Mar, who died in 1828, was reported to take 49 grains (3.2 grams) of raw opium per day, users of laudanum were reported to take up to 40 ounces of mixture (2.6g opium) per day. These would represent daily morphine dosages of 104mg (2.6g @ 4%) to 416mg (3.2g @ 13%).

 

Opium Prices

IDMU has been monitoring Opium use and prices since 1998 (until then Opium was a "write-in" option). Price reports range from £2 to £100 per gram (mean price £19.26), and only seven ounce price reports from £15 to £120, a mean price of £71.12 per ounce (excluding two "free" reports).

 

Table 3 - UK & Regional Opium Prices 1998-2000

Unit

UK

Midlands

n

mean

n

mean

Gram

97

£19.26

12

£14.90

Ounce

5

£71.12

1

£15.00

 

The distribution of 1998-2000 Opium prices (excluding single isolated reports of £45 and £100 per gram) is shown in fig 1 below.

 

Fig 1 - Distribution of UK Opium Prices 1998-2000
opium ukOpium UK

 

Much will depend on the source, e.g. a family or community member from a producer country could expect to pay very much less than a UK-based stranger with no connections. For instance, in Afghanistan a kilo of opium costs around £500, equivalent to £14 per ounce, and may be expected to contain up to 10% morphine by weight.

It would appear that there are two distinct types of user, the recreational (white) user who would purchase small quantities at high prices, and the regular (ethnic) user who would be able to obtain larger quantities at much reduced prices from within the ethnic community.

There are a limited number of "official" reports of opium prices, including £10 per gram (London Only Sept 1996, £10,000 per kilo (no local gram prices) in December 1997, and £250-£300 per ounce (Manchester 1996).

The US State Department estimated that 570 metric tons of opium produced in South East Asia could yield 57 tons of heroin. On this basis, 1 kilogram of opium would be expected to produce up to 100 grams of heroin. The former Soviet republic of Khirghizistan estimated in 1993 that production of 100 tons of opium, containing approximately 17% morphine, could yield $1 billion in gross revenue. On this basis, 1 kilogram would be worth $10,000 (approx £6500).