Heroin and TATP: A Recipe for Disaster?
September 16, 2009 at 08:05
There has been some concern within the Law Enforcement Community recently about drug traffickers cutting raw heroin with a variety of peroxide-based substances. While this sounds fairly innocuous, a basic understanding of the chemistry used in most LE drug test kits will tell you that mixing the acid-based chemical test reagents with peroxide-based compounds results in the release of sulfuric acid which is highly corrosive and can cause burns. We issued a Safety Alert to the community on November 14th advising officers to be cautious about field testing heroin from unknown sources due to the possibility of test pouches rupturing during the chemical reaction, potentially injuring the officer.
One of the most interesting aspects of this trend was the riddle surrounding the composition of the cutting agents. I personally called and spoke with an officer who had a test pouch rupture during the testing process. His lab confirmed that the cutting agent was brick dust, a peroxide-based compound used in cosmetics and other benign applications. There have also been a number of unconfirmed reports that TATP, an explosive and peroxide-based compound, has been used to cut heroin. Now, I’m no scientist or drug addict, but I wonder about the logic of cutting narcotics with an explosive compound. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Mr. Jake Bohi, of the Homeland Defense Bureau (Bomb Squad) recently published an article using research from the Phoenix PD where they conducted tests of manufactured TATP coming into contact with acids utilizing a variety of NIK and ODV narcotics test kits provided by Forensics Source. I won’t delve into the details of the testing protocols (the details have been published in the January/February edition of The Detonator, Volume 36, Number 1), but the results published by the Phoenix PD can be quickly summarized as follows:
Some kits were more sensitive than others, but if you follow the instructions and use the amount of material recommended by the manufacturer, you will be fine.
Kits that contained only weak acid solutions or water based solutions did not react with the organic peroxide at all.
Results emphasized that only small amounts of product are needed to field test drugs and using larger amounts than the manufacturers recommend may be dangerous.
Training law enforcement officers how to use drug test kits is crucial.
We still don’t know if anyone is really crazy enough to cut heroin with explosive TATP, but at least if they do, we have more confidence than ever that following proper training and protocols will keep officers safe.