High grade white heroin is staging a comeback on the streets of the UK after nearly three decades, Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has warned.
The white variety is considered far more dangerous the currently popular brown one. It is easy to snort and inject as it is water-soluble. It is suspected to be manufactured in Afghanistan and smuggled to West.
Deputy director Steve Coates of the SOCA said there had been a few seizures of small amounts of heroin hydrochloride in the past year but the return of the drug was noticeable.
He said: 'We're not panicking but we have noticed the re-emergence of this white heroin which virtually disappeared in the 80s and 90s.'
He said there had been seizures overseas in Afghanistan and Turkey, as well as a huge haul last year of Ģ5.5million worth of heroin, including white heroin, in straws sewn into the weave of Afghan rugs.
Mr Coates, who has been involved in investigating the heroin trade for more than 20 years, said law enforcement agencies had seen a 'seismic change' in the supply to the UK.
He said: 'I would estimate over 92 per cent of heroin used in the UK and probably throughout Europe comes from Afghanistan.
'Back in the 70s heroin in the UK was mainly Chinese and south-east Asian.'
He said as Chinese involvement waned in the early 1980s, the gap in the market was filled by brown heroin from Afghanistan.
In the early 90s, there was a seismic shift in heroin trafficking to the UK. Turkish-Kurdish groups really got involved,' he said.
'When the Turkish criminals started to get involved we saw a real difference - multi-hundred kilo loads, principally from Turkey.
'They were extremely sophisticated consignments in vehicles, in secret compartments or metal trays.'
Investigations culminated in the largest ever seizure in 1997 when authorities intercepted a haul of 890lb (404kg) imported in bathrobes from Turkey - a common route from Afghanistan.
In June 2003, 875lb (397kg) was seized in a joint Customs and Excise and National Crime Squad operation.
But Mr Coates said that, despite these successes, heroin hydrochloride posed a new threat.
Overseas seizures in Afghanistan and Turkey suggest large-scale producers have started to manufacture white heroin and export it to the UK.
Mr Coates said SOCA is working with partners in the UK and Afghanistan and Turkey to stop the lethal drug reaching the UK.
He added: 'We"ve identified this as a potential threat.
Gary Sutton, head of drug services at drugs charity Release, echoed Mr Coates's view that the return of white heroin should not bring panic, but awareness.
He said: 'I'm not surprised about its resurgence. All it takes is one or two half-decent chemists and you can make heroin.
'In Afghanistan they've got God knows how much opium and brown heroin so just to take it one step further and make heroin hydrochloride seems simple.'
He said it was far easier to inject white heroin than brown heroin, as the ritual of 'cooking' it was not necessary and it just needed to be mixed with water.
Its dangers were made clear in Quentin Tarantino's cult film Pulp Fiction, in which Uma Thurman's character snorts the powder, thinking it is cocaine, and then collapses.
Sutton said the Pulp Fiction scenario could be possible, and snorting white heroin carries a higher risk of overdose than smoking brown heroin.
Mr Sutton said today's users may be less aware than their predecessors of the dangers of the white heroin.