What Is Opium?
Opium is a drug distilled from the juice of the poppy flower. It is refmed into some of the most valuable medicines known to man but, woefully, also some of the most thoughtlessly abused drugs in the world: morphine, codeine, heroin.
Opium is obtained from the immature flowers of the opium poppy, Papaer somniferum, the "sleepbearing" poppy, by slightly incising the flowers and collecting the milky juice. The juice turns a latex-like brown gum on exposure to the air. Some types of opium are virtually black.
The raw opium is made into lumps, cakes, bricks, etc. When fairly fresh, they are generally soft inside, similar to fresh putty. The chief active chemical in opium is the alkaloid mor- phine, the main source of the drug's analgesic (painkilling), narcotic and addictive properties. What Are the Uses of Opium?
Opium has uses in medicine and science.
Its main medicinal products are: morphine, codeine, papaverme. These are among the most valuable drugs available to physicians.
Morphine and the opiates, synthetic morphine-like drugs, are the most effective painkillers and pain-relievers yet known.
Codeine is effective for mild pain and relieves cough.
Papaverine is used for circulatory diseases.
Opium is in great demand, too, however, for illegal uses: for opium eating and drinking, opium smoking, and manufacture of illicit morphine and heroin.
Estimates are that in 1971, some I ,500 metric tons of opium were produced for the world's legal opium market (pharmaceutical companies, which are licensed and strictly controlled in making opium-based medicinal drugs). In the same year, some 1,200 metric tons went to the illicit markets, mainly in Southeast Asia.
What Are the Sources of Opium?
A common belief is: Turkey is the main opium grower. This is not so.
The 2 main opium producing areas are: India, which reported cultivating 41,000 hectares in 1971, and the so-called Golden Triangle, the misty mountains where the borders of Burma, Thiland and Laos meet which is believed to equal and even exceed the Indian acreage. In 1971, Turkey only had 13,000 hectares.
Iran abolished poppy production in 1969. But it resumed planting in 1971 and planned to have 20,000 hectares under cultivation in the fall of 1972.
There is also considerable Poppy acreage in the Pushtu- speaking areas of northwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan, some crop-size plantings in Eastern Europe and scattered parts of Australia, Mexico, South America, South Korea, North Africa.1
Licit (that is, legal) opium production is strictly controlled by the various governments. Or so goes the legal fiction, anyway.
Illicit (that is, illegal) production is a highly clandestine operation. Until Asia's opium kingpin lo ilsing-han feli to Thai and U.S. "narcs in mid-1973, the Golden Triangle, where he reigned supreme, yielded two-thirds of the world's 1,200 metric tons of illicit opium.
What are the Opium Alcaloids?
The alcaloids of opium are of 2 types in chemical structure and action.
One group (morphine and codeine, principally) are anal- gesic, narcotic and potentially addicting. Morphine and codeine differ markedly with each other, however, in all three respects; morphine is the more powerful.
The other group (papaverine and noscapine, principally) are not analgesic, narcotic or addicting.