Hanoi police have recently uncovered a shop storing 5,000 liters of opium-steeped wine, which is considered a kind of tonic wine with medicinal properties despite the rejection of scientists.
In general, ‘alcohol 138’ is a wine soaked with the roots, stem, or fruit of opium poppy plants.
This kind of wine is sought by many alcohol enthusiasts. In Vietnam, it is named ‘alcohol 138’ after Campaign 138 to wipe out the cultivation of opium poppy plants, carried out by the People’s Committee of northern Yen Bai province.
‘Alcohol 138’ a favorite of carousers
This kind of liquor is talked about among male drinkers as a miracle remedy with different functions, such as pain relief, a cure for ailments of the stomach and intestines, and a promoter of sexual masculinity.
Ethnic minority people in the mountainous areas of the north often used to drink liquor soaked with opium poppies, especially when the cultivation of the plant was not razed en masse. To this day, some locals still plant poppies to process alcohol 138, which is commonly sold in Yen Bai.
The ‘processing technology’ of alcohol 138 is quite simple, as it can be done in one of two ways: soaking the alcohol with fresh poppies or dried poppies.
Soaked with fresh poppies, the alcohol turns dark brown after a week and it is then drinkable. Each 5-liter vase of poppy alcohol 138 is priced at VND1.5 – 2 million (US$72 – 96). A similar vase soaked with opium doubles in price.
In 2010, Yen Bai police arrested a local named Bui Thi Hoa for the illegal sale of 1,500 liters of opium liquor; he was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Tran Dang, former head of the Food Safety Department under the Ministry of Health, admitted that opium liquor is not a new problem. Five years ago, he identified 2,000 kinds of animal parts and plants which were being used to infuse alcohol for their so-called medicinal properties in 30 provinces and cities in Vietnam. Opium liquor is one of them.
“Drinking opium liquor may cause addiction to both alcohol and opium if it is consumed for a week,” he said.
“One of the properties of opium is its ability to create a buoyant feeling of good health, so it is usually misunderstood. Once addicted, people feel pain and can’t resist the drug,” Dang added.
Colonel Doan Huu Chau, head of the Hanoi Environmental Police Department, said his agency has sent samples of liquor 138 for tests to identify the content of the opium.
An opium alcohol drinker is charged with the use of illegal drugs if the result of tests of his blood or urine proves positive, Chau confirmed.