The following is a step-by-step description of morphine extraction in a typical Southeast Asian laboratory:
Approximately 13 kilograms of opium, from one hectare of opium poppies, are needed to produce each morphine block of this size.
- An empty 55-gallon oil drum is placed on bricks about a foot above the ground and a fire is built under the drum. Thirty gallons of water are added to the drum and brought to a boil. Ten to fifteen kilograms of raw opium are added to the boiling water.
- With stirring, the raw opium eventually dissolves in the boiling water, while soil, leaves, twigs, and other non-soluble materials float in the solution. Most of these materials are scooped out of the clear brown 'liquid opium' solution.
- Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), or more often a readily available chemical fertilizer with a high content of lime, is added to the solution. The lime converts the water insoluble morphine into the water soluble calcium morphenate. The other opium alkaloids do not react with the lime to form soluble calcium salts. Codeine is slightly water soluble and gets carried over with the calcium morphenate in the liquid. For the most part, the other alkaloids become part of the residual sediment 'sludge' that comes to rest on the bottom of the oil drum.
- As the solution cools, and after the insolubles precipitate out, the morphine solution is scooped from the drum and poured through a filter of some kind. Burlap rice sacks are often used as filters. They are later squeezed in a press to remove most of the solution from the wet sacks. The solution is then poured into large cooking pots and re-heated, but not boiled.
- Ammonium chloride is added to the heated calcium morphenate solution to adjust the alkalinity to a pH of 8 to 9, and the solution is then allowed to cool. Within one or two hours, the morphine base and the unextracted codeine base precipitate out of the solution and settle to the bottom of the cooking pot.
- The solution is then poured off through cloth filters. Any solid morphine base chunks in the solution will remain on the cloth. The morphine base is removed from both the cooking pot and from the filter cloths, wrapped and squeezed in cloth, and then dried in the sun. When dry, the crude morphine base is a coffee-colored powder.
- This 'crude' morphine base, commonly known by the Chinese term p'i-tzu throughout Southeast Asia, may be further purified by dissolving it in hydrochloric acid, adding activated charcoal, re-heating and re-filtering. The solution is filtered several more times, and the morphine (morphine hydrochloride) is then dried in the sun.
- Morphine hydrochloride (still tainted with codeine hydrochloride) is usually formed into small brick-sized blocks in a press and wrapped in paper or cloth. The most common block size is 2 inches by 4 inches by 5 inches weighing about 1.3 kilograms (3 lbs). The bricks are then dried for transport to heroin processing laboratories.