Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Making Cocaine

This post will hopefully be of interest to some of the 50 people who responded to my essay, Alcoholic. Actually, I hope it's of interest to everyone.

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This morning’s newspaper had a front-page story about drug trafficking, this time involving Venezuela. Accompanying the article was a photo of the U.S. Coast Guard’s interception of a nondescript boat allegedly containing $55 million-worth of cocaine.

The production of cocaine and crack cocaine has long been the major export of Peru and Bolivia, but it’s nice to see another banana republic breaking into its manufacture and sale: God knows the poor people of Venezuela can use the money, and I think it’s swell that American coke addicts are so willing to support this worthy cause. [This is my small bowl of sarcasm; I have larger sizes upon request.]

The reason I bring the subject up is it reminded me of a story from the time I was working with drug addicts. The process of making cocaine fascinated me, so I read the following account during a weekly men’s group.

How Illicit Cocaine is Produced*

Drying leaves (illegally)in Bolivia
"First, the coca leaves are harvested. In some parts of Bolivia, this is done as often as once every three months because the climate is well suited for the plant to grow. Second, the leaves are dried, usually by letting them sit in the sunlight for a few hours or days, and although this process is illegal in many parts of South America, the local authorities are quite tolerant and do little to interfere with the drying of coca leaves."

A little authorly humor. Har. The process continues:

"In the third step of cocaine production, the dried leaves are put in a plastic-lined pit and mixed with water and sulfuric acid. The mixture is crushed by workers who wade into the pit in their bare feet. After the mixture has been crushed, diesel fuel and bicarbonate are added to it. After ... workers reenter the pit several times to stomp through the mixture, the liquids are drained off. Lime is then mixed with the residue, forming a paste known as cocaine base. It takes 500 kilograms of leaves to produce 1 kilogram of cocaine base.

"The fourth step involves adding water, gasoline, potassium permanganate, and ammonia to the paste. This forms a reddish brown liquid, which is then filtered. Adding a few drops of ammonia produces a milky solid that is filtered and dried. Then the dried base is dissolved in a solution of hydrochloric acid and acetone. A white solid forms and settles to the bottom of the tank. This solid material is the compound cocaine hydrochloride. Eventually, [it] is filtered and dried under heating lights. This causes the mixture to form a white, crystalline powder, which is packed and shipped usually in kilogram packages. Before sale to the individual user, each kilogram is adulterated and the resulting compound packaged in 1-gram units." [Highlighted text is mine.]

At the end of my reading, the addicts in the men’s group were as stunned as I had been. Diesel fuel and gasoline? Hydrochloric and sulfuric acids? ACETONE? Dangerous chemicals all, supposedly filtered a few times, but who can attest to the quality control of illicit drug manufacturers?

And even though these fellows were in "treatment," in "recovery," I sensed that they were proud of what they'd snorted, smoked, or injected into their bodies.

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*Doweiko, Harold E. (2002, Fifth edition), Concepts of Chemical Dependency, Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth Group, pp 140-141.



Ponita in Real Life said...

It's no wonder this stuff can kill ya! Ye gods and little fishes!!! Who on earth ever thought to devise that recipe to get some snortable powder that gets you all jittery and talkative???? (At least, that's what it did to me when I tried it about 25 or so years ago... did NOT like that at all.)

Lady_Amanda said...

I never knew you worked with drug addicts Charlie! Are you a therapist? Drugs is the one thing I have never wanted to do. I always joke the two things I have never done is drugs or men. I do eventually want to see what a man is like, but I still have no desire to even touch drugs! You know what's really stupid, those crack heads could take the money they're using on drugs and find a way to help people in third world countries so they don't have to make drugs. I mean some of these addicts, if they were in their right mind, could be noble peace prizer winners! Good post.

Hugs and blessings,

Pat said...

Apart from the addicts what about those workers stomping in that toxic stuff. I suspect health and safety isn't large on the agenda.
Does anybody care?

TechnoBabe said...

Such a waste to not care enough about your own body that you would actually be proud of the chemicals that can and will destroy that mind and body. It saddens me to hear of so many people who fall for the false hope of fun and not having to feel and relaxing and all the lies they tell themselves. My hubby tells me that he was hooked the first time he smoked a joint and then not only was he smoking a joint all throughout the day every day he was using all the other drugs too. And alcohol. It will be ten years clean and sober for him in August. My best friend who now lives in another state has been clean and sober 20 years. Those are the stories I like to hear, the ones who made it. I know it is still one day at a time but I do think that the longer time they are clean and sober the better the chances are to stay that way.

lisleman said...

Charlie thanks for that info. I am very surprised too. I don't know which chemicals are used in meth but I understand it also is a dangerous mix.
I guess the chemicals could be anything, even radioactive and some people would still use them. Safety is not big in the drug world.
I also wondered why anyone would trust buying something illegal and illegally made.

Entre Nous said...

I'll take super-sized sarcasm please!

Never ceases to amaze me what people will put in their bodies to run away from their truths.

Whenever I hear cocaine I remember an EMT class, and the statement the instructor made that shocked me so. He said, " No-one can ever know if they are allergic to cocaine until they do it the first time. If they are alergic, the first time will be the last, it causes immediate DEATH."

Its just plain ignorant to mess with illegal narcotics. It's pick your poison, literally.

Kim Ayres said...

Not exactly environmentally friendly then...

Alice said...

I'm with Ponita. Who the hell sat there one day and thought...hmmm...i wonder if I took these coca leaves and stomped some sulfuric acid in them what would happen? oh wait, it would be even better if I added gasoline and...but then what would I do with it?

And what do those people's feet look like?

Syd said...

I dare say if they are addicted, they don't care what they are putting in their bodies as long as it gets them high and suppresses their problems. Look at the meth labs--fertilizer?? Illegal drugs and many prescription drugs are dangerous. The addicts just want to get high and don't care how the product was made, just that they can get enough of it.
As for the boasting of the addicts, I'm sure those guys were right back out there doing it again. It doesn't sound like they had surrendered to me.

Attila The Mom said...

mmmm mmmm good! (ok that was my small bowl of sarcasm) ;-)

Mary Witzl said...

Yick. I thought crystal meths production was bad enough as it is, but that sounds like one toxic cocktail.

Chocolate for me. Cocoa is a lot nicer than cocaine.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Way too much wine is starting to look like a health tonic!

laytonwoman3rd said...

With apologies to Randy Newman, it's a jungle out there. I would favor elementary school teachers explaining that process to young kids, without telling them what it was for until the grossness had sunk in for a few minutes. MAYBE it would prevent one or two of 'em from giving it a try when the inevitable opportunity arose.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I believe Hostess Twinkies (at least the white stuff in the middle) are manufactured using a similar process.

Unknown Mami said...

Holy cow! Another reason we need to stop our dependency on fossil fuels.

Anonymous said...

You don't need all of those Chemicals. Use Ether To extract The. Oil from the leafs. And add b12 complex to settle to base... Makes for a more. Pure final product.