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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|
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.