1.6.1 packaging logos
There are unique factors associated with controlled substance examinations which involve packaging. Heroin and cocaine are usually imported into the U.S. clandestinely packaged. Sometimes this packaging takes the form of legitimate household or commercial products which have been hollowed out or have natural crevices into which drugs can be stored for shipment. These kinds of packages will usually be transported via commercial carriers to distributors who will reclaim the drugs and repackage them for street distribution. Sometimes drugs are shipped via human beings who store packages in body cavities, or swallow small packages in order to clear customs checks at points of entry. In these cases, it is not unusual for the packaging to break while in the body of the person transporting the drug. This usually results in severe injury or death.
Another common way of transporting controlled substances is to package the controlled substance in brick-size, 1 kg, packages for shipment to the U.S. This is often the case with shipments of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, and the packages are usually wrapped in paper or tape. Sometimes a logo, serving as a type of trademark for the illicit distributor, will be affixed. Logos can take the form of any number of designs . They are applied using a stamping or printing device. Some commonly encountered designs include, but are not limited to, animals, symbols from Greek mythology, replications of brand name product logos, replications of the names of polictical figures, cartoon characters, and numbers.
When a number of these logos are encountered, examinations can be conducted to determined whether two logos have a common source. If the examiner determines that two logos are the same, and were produced using the same printing or stamping device, then the two packages must have originated from the same source. This kind of information is especially useful in tracking distribution networks.
Glassine envelopes measuring approximately 1 in. x 2 in. are commonly used to distribute heroin "on the street" directly to the primary user. More often than not, these glassine envelopes have rubber stamped images affixed. These rubber stamped images take many forms. Cartoon characters or words with social implications are common. The examiner can determine whether these rubber stamped images have a commonality of source and use this information to track distribution patterns of heroin within a geographical area.
Counterfeit tablets and capsules, which closely resemble tablets and capsules of legitimate pharmaceutical companies, are readily available on the clandestine market. They generally contain controlled substances that have been formulated in such a way as to mimic legitimate pharmaceutical preparations.1 They are designed to be sold either on the clandestine or the legitimate market. These counterfeits sometimes are expertly prepared and closely resemble the pharmaceutical products that they are designed to represent. At other times, they are poorly made, inadequate representations of the products they are purported to represent.
The examiner in these types of cases will evaluate the suspected tablets or capsules by examining both the class and individual characteristics of the products. Legitimate products are usually prepared with few significant flaws on tablet or capsule surfaces. The lettering or numbering will be symmetrical in every way. The tablet surfaces will have minimal chips or gouges and will usually be symmetrical. The homogeneity of the tablet will be of the highest quality. Counterfeits will usually have tableting flaws. These flaws can take the forms of imperfect lettering or numbering, rough surfaces, or inconsistencies in the tablet formulation. This can result in different hardening characteristics of the tablet. Legitimate capsules will be highly symmetrical. The lettering or numbering will usually line up on both halves of the capsule.2,3
In recent years, methamphetamine and amphetamine tablets and capsules, crafted to mimic Dexedrine® and Benzedrine®, have been encountered with some frequency. These two products were distributed and used quite extensively on the legitimate market up until the 1970s. And while they are are still available commercially with a prescription, they have been controlled under Schedule II since 1972 and their legal distribution and useage in the medical community has become fairly limited. Counterfeit barbiturate, methaqualone, and benzodiazepine tablets, sometimes from documented clandestine source laboratories from 20 years ago, have been encountered in recent seizures. Counterfeit Quaalude®, Mandrax®, and Valium® tablets are examples of legitimate trademark products that have been the favorites of clandestine laboratory operators. The "look-alike" market was especially lucrative in the 1970s and 1980s and became a $50,000,000 a year industry.4-5
A unique problem, encountered with regularity up until 1975, involved the refilling of capsules. Legitimate capsules were diverted from legitimate manufacturing sources. The capsules were then emptied of their contents and refilled with some innocuous material, such as starch or baking soda, and sold. The original filling usually containing a controlled substance was then diverted for sale on the illicit market. These capsules can usually be identified by imperfections in their surface characteristics. There may be small indentations on the gelatinous surface of the capsule and fingerprints indicating excessive handling. The seal holding both halves of the capsule together will not be tight. And there will usually be traces of powder around the seal of the capsule. Refilling capsules by hand or by improvised mechanical devices is not easy and usually results in these visible powder residues. A more common problem today is the refilling of over-the-counter capsules with heroin for distribution at the retail level.
A similar problem that is encountered with some frequency in the forensic science laboratory is the pre-packaged syringe from a hospital which is labeled and supposed to contain an analgesic such as meperidine. Patients complains they are receiving no relief from the injection they have been given. The syringes are then sent to the laboratory for analysis. Not infrequently, they are found to contain water, substituted for the active drug by an addicted doctor or nurse.
Legitimate tablets and capsules from reputable manufacturers are formulated with specific diluents, binders, and lubricants. Stearic acid and palmitic acid are examples of materials frequently used to hold the tablets together. Using microscopy and microchemical techniques, an examiner can determine whether a tablet or capsule is legitimate by examining the chemical composition. By evaluating the diluents, binders, lubricants, and active chemical components both qualitatively and quantitatively, the examiner can determine whether the tablet or capsule is legitimate or a counterfeit. Counterfeits take three forms—sometimes a counterfeit will actually contain the controlled substance which the legitimate product would contain; it will contain another controlled substance which has been substituted for the labeled product; at other times, it may contain only fillers, binders, and some non-controlled medicinal product.
The most commonly counterfeited tablets are diazepam tablets which look very much like legitimate commercially prepared Valium® tablets. Counterfeit Mandrax® and Quaalude®, which were produced legitimately in the 1980s and contained methaqualone or diazepam, are still available on the illicit market in the 1990s. Counterfeit anabolic steroid tablets are the newest illicit products to hit the market. They are usually manufactured to look like products manufactured in Europe. Sometimes they actually contain an anabolic steroid (which may or may not be the product as labeled), and sometimes they contain innocuous materials such as cooking oils which look very much like injectable steroids.
Clandestinely manufactured controlled substances are often-times encountered. These products are usually in the form of tablets that are prepared using punch presses. These presses usually consist of tableting dies into which powder is placed and high pressure applied forming a molded tablet. When tablets from different seizures are examined, the class and individual characteristics can be compared to determine source commonality. Since many of these clandestine punch presses have more than one set of dies, successful matches become more problematic. There are salient differences in the individual characteristics of tablets from the same punch press operation where different sets of tableting dies are configured on multi-punch machines to simultaneously produce tablets. The examiner must demonstrate skill and patience in determining which set of dies from a punch press was responsible for a particular set of tablets. The punch presses dies will always have surface imperfections which are transferred to the tablets and can be used to determine source commonality. In recent years, these clandestine tabletting operations have been involved in the production of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and 3,4-methylenedioxyethamphetamine (MDEA) tablets.
LSD has been available for years in the forms of small tablets (microdots), small gelatinous squares, clear plastic-like squares (window panes), powders or crystals, liquid, or in capsules. The most commonly encountered form of LSD available today is impregnated blotter paper. This LSD medium is prepared by dissolving the clandestinely produced LSD powder in an alcohol solution, and then spraying or soaking the paper with the solution. The alcohol solution used most frequently is EverClear®, a commercial ethyl alcohol product available in liquor stores. This LSD-impregnated paper is referred to as "blotter acid". It is usually distributed on sheets of paper perforated into 1/4 in. x 1/4 in. squares. These sheets of paper range in size to hold from 1 square up to 1000 squares. These sheets of blotter paper can be plain white or single colored with no design imprints. More often than not, there will be a brightly colored design on the paper. The design can be simple such as a black and white circle, or it can be extremely intricate. One such design was brightly colored and with a detailed depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The design can cover each and every individual square of a 1000-perforated square sheet of paper, or one design can cover the entire sheet of blotter paper where each 1/4 in. x 1/4 in. perforation square makes up 1/1000 of the total design.
By examining the intricate designs on LSD blotter paper from different seizures, it is possible to determine whether there is a common source. Depending on the printing process and the quality of the image, the examiner may be able to characterize an exhibit as having originated from the image transfer process and a specific printing device. This ability to determine source commonality is most valuable in determining the origins of LSD exhibits seized from different parts of the world.
The processes described above are most valuable in linking seizures to a particular source. Investigators who are skillful and fortunate enough to seize printing or tableting devices even without the actual controlled substances can have their efforts rewarded by terminating a controlled substance production operation. A qualified scientific examiner has the opportunity to use these devices as standards and to search reference collections of tablets, capsules, LSD blotter paper designs, or heroin or cocaine packaging logos to determine possible associations to past seizures. When this happens, the opportunity to eliminate another source of illicit drug distribution becomes a possibility.
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