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New Jersey Plant Nation’s Only Legal Importer Of Cocaine

July 17, 1988 GMT

MAYWOOD, N.J. (AP) _ In the midst of the nation’s war on drugs, a plant in this suburban community quietly imports coca leaves and processes them into medicinal cocaine and a non-narcotic flavor extract for Coca-Cola.

Workers at the Stepan Co. plant, the nation’s only legal importer of cocaine, must undergo strict background checks, and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency frequently visit, said plant manager John O’Brien.

DEA spokesman Milton Smilek in Newark said there haven’t been any security problems at the plant just west of New York City. He said it processes hundreds of tons of cocaine each year.

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The company imports coca leaf from Peru and to a lesser extent from Bolivia, O’Brien said.

Part of what Stepan extracts from the coca leaf is sold to Mallinckrodt Inc., a St. Louis-based pharmaceutical company.

Mallinckrodt further purifies the extract into pharmaceutical grade cocaine hydrochloride, used as a local anesthetic by eye, ear and nose specialists, said company spokeswoman Roxanna Motchan.

Mallinckrodt also is subject to stringent DEA requirements, including background checks of employees, she said.

Carlton Curtis, a spokesman for Coca-Cola in its Atlanta headquarters, said use of the coca extract in the soft drink is common knowledge, although the company closely guards its secret formula, first developed in 1886.

″We’ve been openly talking about that for 102 years,″ Curtis said.

Coca-Cola, whose name is derived from the company’s use of the coca extract, has said that before the refining process was modernized around the turn of the century, traces of cocaine may have made it into some drinks.

Mayor John A. Steuert Jr. said he’s unsure if most of the town’s 9,900 residents know the plant processes cocaine.

″It’s the kind of publicity I’m sure they try to avoid if they can,″ he said.