Police want ethnic communities to help them fight a suspected upsurge in the smuggling of raw opium into West Yorkshire. They suspect drug dealers may be finding it easier to bring in the raw substance more easily than in its refined and more modern form – heroin.
Officers also believe that opium is in circulation because of its historic and social position in Iraqi and Iranian communities.
Some groups see the use of opium as part of their social life. Police suspect this allows dealers to target these communities, offerng supplies of the drug and profiting from its illegal import.
Recently police seized 27 kilograms of the drug, much of it from the Leeds and Huddersfield area.
It is suspected that the haul may have originated from Turkey and Iran.
One batch of opium was disguised as sweets wrapped in clear paper. If the 'sweets' had been eaten by children they could have been killed.
One of the issues facing those investigating the drug trade is the traditional mistrust of police brought to Britain by members of some communities from their homelands.
Crimestoppers is seen as possibly the only way of overcoming this in-bred mistrust of police and obtaining vital information about the smuggling of the drug.
Information about the dangers posed by opium and the legal risks for those involved in its use, possession and trade is to be distributed via briefing statements translated into Farsi, Arabic and Kurdish.
The briefing documents giving these details and the Crimestoppers contact numbers are being distributed by various statutory support agencies and neighbourhood policing teams.
If anyone does use, possess or supply opium they can be arrested, this includes those found smoking the drug.
Even chewing it is still an offence.
The documents warn communities that the courts can jail anyone who is convicted for using, possessing or supplying opium.
Even though opium is less potent than heroin, it still has serious health effects and can lead to addiction, depression and other mental health issues.
Although opium has been imported to Britain for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes it was not until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that its use as a pharmaceutical panacea and exotic recreational drug became epidemic within all sections of British society.
Prior to the 1868 Pharmacy Act which restricted the sale of opium to professional pharmacists, anyone could legally trade in opium products: by the middle of the 19th century hundreds of opium based potions, pill, and patent medicines were available to the general public.
Among the most famous preparations were Dover's Powders, initially marketed as a cure for gout; Godfey's Cordial which was sold as a "soother" for crying babies; and laudanum, a tincture of opium in alcohol, which was both easily made and readily available.
The widespread availability of the drug was in no small part due to the expansion of the British Empire into India. In the 18th century opium had been imported chiefly from Turkey, which was not under British control.
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