The Drug Problem Is A Global Issue Biology Essay


The abuse of drug is not the concern of only one country or one continent, but it affects the whole world. Whether be it a rich or a poor country, the drug problem is a global issue. The world is developing very fast and thus interaction between countries is becoming easier. Previously, interaction between countries was very minimal and each country had their own advantages and/or problems confined within the country itself. Nowadays, the various means of contact between each other open avenues for advantages and also disadvantages to be shared. This further facilitates illicit drug trafficking from one part of the world to the other. For this reason it becomes important for one country to reinforce its entry and exit points to prevent illicit drug from entering to or transiting through the country. Although all the security measures taken, drug trafficking continues to be a major problem in many countries.

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One of the measures to bring a decrease in drug supply is to know from where the drug is coming from. This can be achieved by analysing the drug and obtaining its profile which can be compared to previously stored information. Drug profiling is an important tool to aid in the tracking of drug traffickers. Drug can be compared and found to match with other seized batches. Moreover, the country of origin can be determined based on the alkaloids, cutting agents and impurities present in the illicit drug samples. That is why the profiling of drug becomes a crucial aspect for combating drug problem.

Eradicating the problem of illicit drug supply is very difficult; however, with the help of drug profiling, this problem can at least be reduced to some extent. Different countries can work together as a cohesive unit to not only protect their respective countries but the whole globe as well. With a proactive drug profiling team consistently tracking the drug traffickers and identifying the link or the origin of the illicit drugs, countries will begin to see a change as illicit drug supply will show a decline.

As mentioned above, drug profiling can contribute enormously to track the source of the illicit drug sample in an attempt to bring a decrease in drug supply. Since no previous studies have been carried out on illicit drug profiling in Mauritius, there is practically no information available to start the project with and implying that the project has to start from scratch. As drug profiling is in itself a very huge topic for discussion and time is a major constraint, only heroin profiling has been considered for this study. This study focuses on attempting to start drug profiling at the Forensic Science Laboratory by setting heroin profiling as an example.

One of the main reasons for choosing Forensic Science Laboratory as a case of interest is that the laboratory is involved in the identification and analysis of illicit drug for many years and now the time has come for it to upgrade and move towards providing intelligent information than merely analytical results for detection of the illicit drug. The idea of choosing the Forensic Science Laboratory was even more aroused given that it is the only laboratory in Mauritius involved with the analysis of illicit drug. Therefore, starting heroin profiling will most certainly bring about greater credibility within the organisation and providing additional information about the origin of the drug will definitely be appraised by the police department.

Another reason for choosing drug profiling for the study is that Mauritius is listed among the top in African countries to have drug problems. Thus, it becomes a necessity for Mauritius to devise a mechanism to be able to manage such an increasing number of drug abuses. It is here that the idea of implementing drug profiling finds its worth. Since drug abuse is in itself such a huge field to investigate, an attempt of heroin profiling is thought of at the beginning and if this attempt is successful, profiling of other drugs will definitely follow. Therefore, there is a high probability that starting heroin profiling at the Forensic Science Laboratory becomes realisable. This implies that this study is not being made only for the award of a degree but also its applicability in real situation.

1.2 Objectives of the Study

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The objectives of the study were to:

Examine how illicit heroin is analyzed at the Forensic Science Laboratory;

Establish a protocol as to how heroin profiling can be carried out at The Forensic Science Laboratory;

Evaluate to what extent heroin profiling can be practised;

Verify whether heroin profiling can be implemented at the Forensic Science Laboratory.

1.3 Structure of the Project

Chapter one is the introduction whereby the objectives of the study have been stated and the structure of the project has been discussed. It provides an overview of the need for heroin profiling. It also stresses why Forensic Science Laboratory was chosen for the study. The major part of it comprises the literature review.

Chapter two is an analysis of the present situation at Forensic Science Laboratory together with a brief description of the organisation. This project would be incomplete without having an insight into the laboratory for which this project had been dedicated.

Chapter three is the research methodology section. This chapter describes the philosophy, approaches, strategies and the protocol for drug profiling that have been adopted during the course of the study. This chapter focuses mainly on the description of the experimental part of the study. Limitations about the study have also been indicated.

Chapter four presents the analysis and findings obtained during the study. The results obtained from the experimental part have been tabulated to facilitate comparison and avoid repetition of wordings. Graphical representations have also been included to provide easy and visual illustrations.

Chapter five discusses the results obtained from the previous chapter. The results have been analyzed, compared and interpreted so that conclusions can be drawn from them.

Chapter six comes with the conclusion drawn in light of the objectives set at the start of the project and ends with recommendations for future research.

1.4 Literature Review

This section describes the work of various persons pertaining to heroin profiling. The importance of drug profiling has also been discussed. Emphasis has been laid on heroin profiling which is of more importance to the study being carried out.

1.4.1 Emergence of Drug Profiling

Drug abuse is a global problem and one of the means to decrease drug abuse is to have information about the production or to locate the country from where the drug originated. Therefore, it becomes imperative to be able to link the drug to the region from where it came. This can be achieved by analyzing the drug and keeping a record of the results obtained and then comparing them with other previously obtained results. The results can also be compared to databases from other collaborating countries. Information about the origin of the drug can help to strengthen entry and exit surveillance of that country in an attempt to decrease drug supply. Therefore, this cooperation between countries to share drug related information helps to combat drug problem by facilitating tracking of the supply chain. Drug profiling contributes massively in attempting to reduce drug supply. Hence, drug profiling is very important to help combat drug problem.

1.4.2 Objective of Drug Profiling

Drug profiling can provide useful information [1] such as:

Establishing the relationship between the user and the dealer

Tracking the source of the drug

Determining the geographic origin

Establishing the distribution networks

Establishing the trafficking routes

Determining the manufacturing methods involved

Detecting the precursor used

1.4.3 Overview of Drug Profiling

Drug profiling is the process of analyzing and classifying the drugs into particular categories or groups in an attempt to link the drug to a common source or synthetic route [2]. It is defined by Terrettaz-Zufferey et al. [3] as 'the extraction and collection of data from seized drugs to deduce the production and distribution processes involved and to obtain information about the market evolution'. Drug profiling can provide information useful for drug law enforcement authorities by searching for drug trafficking patterns and distribution networks [4]. Moreover, it can also indicate the demographic origin, that is, which part or region of the world the drug came from.

Apart from the drug itself, the seized drug samples may contain natural components, by-products and cutting agents which can provide a chemical signature to the drug sample [1]. The natural components are substances that are present in the drug sample from the beginning. Additional components can also exist in the drug sample such as unreacted chemicals, precursors and/or products of side reactions which can help to provide information about the manufacturing process or the production plant. Cutting agents are components present in the drug samples that have been physically added to the drug sample principally to increase the quantity of the drug. However, unlike natural components and by-products which exist from the beginning, cutting agents can be added to the drug sample at any stage from the manufacturing, distribution, storage, or supply of the drug [1]. Hence, drug characterisation based solely on the presence or absence of cutting agents is not appropriate. The presence or absence of cutting agents can help to strengthen any link already established or to identify any distribution network known to use a certain cutting agent.

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Therefore, chemical analysis of the drug samples can provide details on the impurities that may be present in the sample and this can form the basis for classifying the samples into different groups. In general, drug profiling is a very vast topic to be discussed. However, heroin profiling would be considered more in detailed as it forms a critical part of the study.

1.4.4 Heroin as an illicit drug and its profiling

Pure heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a white powder. It is produced by acetylation of morphine, which is obtained from opium. Raw opium is collected from the poppy of the plant, Papaver Somniferum. Morphine is extracted from the opium and then diacetylated to produce diacetylmorphine which is purified to yield heroin hydrochloride.

The raw opium contains many alkaloids such as papaverine and noscapine in addition to morphine which are usually not completely removed during the production of illicit heroin. This incomplete elimination can help to leave a chemical signature of the heroin sample which can help to link two or more heroin samples together. Acetylation reaction during the manufacture of illicit heroin also produces acetylcodeine as by-product. Moreover, incomplete acetylation of morphine produces monoacetylmorphine. Cutting agents usually found in illicit heroin are paracetamol, caffeine, among many others.

1.4.5 Methodology involved for heroin profiling

Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is usually used to carry out heroin profiling [5]. Routine heroin profiling can be performed using gas chromatography with flame ionization detector [6]. In addition to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry can also be used to analyze illicit drug samples to contribute in drug profiling. Lurie et al. [7] used ultra-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for heroin profiling where very low level detection of four basic impurities including morphine, codeine, noscapine, papaverine and five neutral impurities including N,3,6-triacetylnormorphine, N-acetylnorcodeine, N-acetylnornarcotine, 3,6-dimethoxy-4-acetyloxy-5-2-(N-methylacetamido)-ethylphenanthrene, and cis-n-acetylanhydronornarceine were possible by this method.

A Malaysian study was carried out to investigate the cutting agents found in illicit heroin samples and the method used was gas chromatography with good repeatability and reproducibility [8]. Compared to chromatographic method, infrared spectroscopy is a non-destructive method and thus it was used to analyze street level doses of illicit heroin [9]. The country of origin of the drug can be determined by analyzing and comparing the concentration of selected alkaloids and adulterants present in the seized drug sample [10]. The results obtained after analyzing illicit drugs can be compiled together and libraries can be created to act as a repertoire for future drug seizures [11].

Furthermore, analyzing the acidic and neutral impurities in the illicit drug sample can reveal information about the manufacturing process involved in the illicit drug production which can be helpful to link the drug to its country of origin. Morello et al [12] carried out a survey on 500 illicit heroin samples from South America, Mexico, Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia and classified them based on the relative amount of acidic and neutral impurities present. The method used could determined trace level of impurities. It involved liquid-liquid extraction of the drug samples and treatment of the extracts with N-Methyl-N-trimethylsilyltrifluoroacetamide followed by analysis using programmed temperature vaporizing injector-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (PTV-GC-MS).

In addition to chromatography, capillary electrophoresis can also be used for drug profiling. Acidic and neutral impurities in heroin samples were detected in a study by Lurie et al. (13) using capillary electrochromatogram with laser-induced fluorescence. Moreover, cations and ions found in illicit heroin samples can also be analyzed using Capillary Zone Electrophoresis (CZE) [14].

The presence of element in the illicit drug sample can also provide information to link the drug to its origin. Elemental analysis of the illicit drug samples can be conducted to reveal the different elements that can be present in the illicit drug sample and then comparison can be carried out with other samples to establish link among them [15]. Myors et al. [16] carried out a study where 188 heroin samples were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and 73 elements were identified. Based on these results the drug samples were classified into South East Asian and non-South East Asian samples. Degradation products present as impurities in the illicit drug sample can provide an insight into the synthetic pathway of the drug. Toske et al. [17] carried out a survey to trace the neutral impurities in several hundred heroin samples and four different heroin samples were found with eighteen new impurities which could be traced to South American-, Southwest Asian-, Mexican-, and Southeast Asian-type heroin samples.

Drug profiling can be used to establish whether a particular drug has a single source or multiple sources [1]. Collins et al. [18] carried out a study on the seized heroin samples from the 'North Korean merchant vessel Pong Su in Australian waters' to determine the source of the heroin samples. The results obtained showed that these samples had some similarity with the Southeast Asian heroin samples. However, the exact origin of the drug could not be determined as profiling of the heroin showed at least four subgroupings within the seizure. Although the results did not reach to a definitive conclusion of the profile of the seized heroin, it was at least known that the drugs had multiple sources and one of them was Southeast Asia.

The presence and absence of pharmaceuticals and by-products formed the basis of an Iranian study carried out on street level heroin samples in order to identify the composition of the illicit heroin samples. Among the by-products and adulterants found were acetylcodeine, 6-monoacetylmorphine, caffeine, papaverine, noscapine, dextromethorphan, morphine, codeine, phenobarbital and diazepam. A rapid method for profiling samples of illicit heroin conducted by Zhang and Chen [19] concentrated on testing and analyzing six major constituents including acetylcodeine, 6-monoacetylmorphine, papaverine, noscapine, codeine, and morphine.

Where the whole world is combating the problem of drug trafficking, the Australian does not lag behind. The Australian Federal Police and the Australian National Measurement Institute have created the 'Australian Illicit Drug Intelligence Program' to combat drug trafficking [20]. In 2001, Australia experienced a shortage in the illicit heroin availability in the market and at the same period there was a decrease in opium production in Afghanistan. Gibson et al. [21] carried out a study in 2005 on illicit heroin samples to find out whether there was a correlation between the market price and the availability of the drug on the Australian market. No such correlation was able to be established indicating that the price of the illicit heroin samples could not be used to determine whether the drug was originating from a certain region of the world. In 2008, Jiggens et al. [22] carried out a study to investigate into the possible reasons accounting for the lack in illicit heroin supply occurred in 2001. This study came with the conclusion that the decrease in heroin supply may be attributed to the decline in opium production in Afghanistan.

The Tasmanian heroin can uniquely be identified by the presence of the alkaloid, Oripavine, which is present in heroin originating from Tasmania only. Therefore, the presence of oripavine in illicit drug samples is indicative that the drug originated from Tasmania [23]. A study carried out in Slovenia on 22 illicit heroin samples seized during the time interval of 1997 to 1999, revealed that noscapine was present in the samples. The study also revealed that the noscapine content can be very high up to 61% [24].

Odell et al. [25] conducted a study to compare two methods of obtaining heroin from morphine. The traditional method of acetylation of morphine using acetic anhydride produced greater amount of heroin while the use of trifluoroacetic acid and acetic acid for the acetylation of morphine produced cleaner but lesser heroin. This production method produced more of 3-monoacetylmorphine and 6-monoacetylmorphine. Therefore, analyzing the relative proportion of the acetylation products compared to heroin can reveal the production method employed and thus can be indicative of the origin of the illicit heroin samples based on the manufacturing process involved.

Besacier et al. [26] was able to establish with a high degree of certainty whether illicit heroin samples belong to a common batch. A three-step procedure was carried out for heroin profiling involving first of all identification and analysis of the illicit heroin samples followed by trace analysis of the impurities and finally isotopic analysis of the main components [26].

At the Institute of Forensic Sciences of Viet Nam, both physical and chemical characteristics of illicit drug samples are analyzed. The analysis includes comparing the colour of the different samples to try to establish any similarity between samples. In addition, the packaging materials in which the illicit drugs are contained are also examined in an attempt to try to link different samples. Routine based analysis of illicit heroin revealed the presence of morphine, acetyl codeine, codeine, morphine and monoacetylmorphine in addition to diacetylmorphine in the illicit heroin samples. Paracetamol and caffeine were also found as adulterants. Links were identified between different retail heroin samples and they were sought to have been originated from the same source. Such study was even capable of linking the different retail heroin samples to the wholesale sample [27].

As stated by Koo et al. [28], methorphan is being found in illicit heroin samples in many countries around the world. Methorphan can exist as two enantiomers, dextromethorphan and levomethorphan. Levomethorphan is a narcotic and a controlled substance while dextromethorphan is an antitussive agent. Therefore, just obtaining the presence of methorphan is not enough as it is important to know which enantiomer of methorphan is present in the illicit drug sample.

A study carried [29] out in Denmark over a period of twelve years (1981 - 1992) showed how the impurity content of illicit heroin changed with time. The major components added varied from being predominantly caffeine and procaine in the beginning of the study period, then Phenobarbital and methaqualone and finally paracetamol and caffeine. Moreover, it was found that the average percentage purity did not change considerably during the twelve years and the average percentage purity of the street level dose cases (36%) was only slightly lower than that of the bulk seizures (45%).

In 1991, Chaudron-Thozet et al. carried out a study in France which involved classifying illicit heroin samples based on the colour of the illicit heroin by adopting a lab- developed colour code exercise to allow classification. The main colours of the illicit heroin were beige, white and offwhite and the major constituents in the illicit heroin samples were caffeine, paracetamol, mannitol, lactose and saccharose [30].

Dams et al. explained that illicit heroin profiling is very important for two purposes, namely tactical and strategic. The tactical approach is a batch-to-batch comparison while the strategic approach focuses more on the determination of the origin of the illicit heroin samples [31]. Mathematical models have been designed to aid in drug profiling [4]. Cluster analysis and Fisher's Linear discriminant analysis was used by Janhunen and Cole to associate different illicit street heroin samples to their respective batches [32]. A study carried out at 'Institut de Police Scientifique' of University of Lausanne showed that statistical analysis can be used to link heroin samples to similar chemical classes [33]. Statistical methods are employed to classify new drug seizures in existing chemical classes based on profile comparison of the seized drug [33].

Drug intelligence information can also be obtained from the packaging of the illicit drug. A study was carried out by Idoine et al. [34] to investigate the isotopic composition of the packaging material and then grouping together similar batches of illicit heroin. Isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) was used and the packaging material in the cases under investigation was cling film wrapping illicit heroin samples. Another study involving the packaging of the illicit heroin was carried out in Israel by Zamir et al. [35] to investigate whether DNA retrieved from illicit heroin packaging could be link to the drug dealer and it was found that DNA could eventually be retrieved from these packaging. Moreover, since drug dealers are involved in various crimes, it becomes easier for tracking them by searching in a DNA database. Heroin profiling is becoming very easy by comparing the results of the analysis against databases which are strongly supported by statistical interpretation [36].

1.5 The changing role of forensic laboratories

Previously, forensic laboratories had the sole role of identifying the illicit drug and their responsibilities ended here in confirming whether the drug sent to them for analysis is illicit drug or not. Nowadays, the involvement of forensic laboratories has gone beyond this and they actually take part as stake holders to law enforcement agencies in being responsible to bring a decline in illicit drug supply. For this reason, laboratories have nowadays, greater involvement to provide intelligent information rather than mere analytical results. The role of laboratories has changed from operational to strategic focus.

1.6 Conclusion

In concluding the literature review, it can be said that several research were conducted regarding the profiling of heroin. It was also found that there are several techniques that could be carried out simultaneously using different instrumentations and thus more reliable results could be obtained. The following research was undertaken within Forensic Science Laboratory, thereby, heroin profiling was attempted in the first instance.