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Forensic Sci Int. 2008 Mar 5;175(2-3):202-8. Epub 2007 Aug 31.

Isolation and identification of unique marker compounds from the Tasmanian poppy Papaver somniferum N. Implications for the identification of illicit heroin of Tasmanian origin.

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  • 1Chemistry Building, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.


Tasmanian opium accounts for 25% of the world's legal supply of opium straw, and in 1998-99 sufficient numbers of flower pods (66,013) to manufacture ca 500 kg of heroin were stolen. Whilst the heroin signature program has been developed to determine the origin of heroin from other key producers, no such signature currently exists for Tasmanian derived heroin. Tasmanian poppies contain a unique alkaloid, oripavine, which is the source of 'marker' impurities in illicit heroin produced from Tasmanian poppy straw. Treatment of oripavine (500mg) under Thiboumery and Mohr heroin processing conditions, followed by simple evaporative workup afforded 613 mg of a dark orange residue, which upon extensive chromatographic purification yielded oripavine 3-acetate (2) 22 mg; 3-acetyl-N-acetyldesthebaine (3) 35 mg; 3-acetyl-6-methoxy-4,5-epoxyphenanthrene (4) 5.8 mg; 3,4-diacetyl-6-methoxyphenanthrene (5) 27 mg; and 3,4,6-methoxy-5-[2(N-methylacetamido)]ethylphenanthrene (6) 52 mg. Compounds (2-6) are derived from oripavine and are unique to heroin derived from the Tasmanian poppy Papaver somniferum N. Analysis of illicit heroin samples seized from Turkey, Pakistan, Columbia and Myanmar did not reveal any of the aforementioned marker compounds. We have, however, identified four of these marker compounds (3-6) in seized heroin samples from Australia suggesting that they are of Tasmanian origin. Complete details of the isolation and identification of these compounds are provided.

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