Heroin comes from the opium poppy, a flower that grows in Asia, Mexico, and South America.
Heroin belongs to a group of pain-relieving drugs called narcotics. Although certain narcotics such as codeine and morphine are legal if prescribed (given) by doctors to treat pain, such as when someone has surgery or breaks a bone, heroi
n is an illegal narcotic because it is has dangerous side effects and is very addictive.
What are the street names?
horse, smack, big H, black tar, caballo (Spanish), 8-ball (heroin mixed with crack cocaine), junk, TNT
What does this drug look like?
Pure heroin is a white powder that tastes really bad. Some heroin is dark brown, and black tar heroin is either sticky or hard and looks like roofing tar.
How is this drug abused?
Heroin is usually injected or smoked. Purer forms of heroin are inhaled. Many people who are addicted to heroin inject the drug into a vein using needles. They may inject the drug several times a day. Over time, the needle marks, sometimes called tracks, can become permanent scars.
How does this drug affect the brain?
When it enters the brain, heroin is converted back into morphine, which binds to molecules on cells known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem, which controls automatic processes critical for life, such as blood pressure, arousal, and respiration. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of breathing, which can be fatal.
After an intravenous injection of heroin, users report feeling a surge of euphoria (“rush”) accompanied by dry mouth, a warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities, and clouded mental functioning. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Users who do not inject the drug may not experience the initial rush, but other effects are the same.
Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain. One result is tolerance, in which more of the drug is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Another result is dependence, character-ized by the need to continue use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
How does this drug affect the body?
The effects on the body from continued use of this drug are very destructive. Frequent injections can cause collapsed veins and can lead to infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Tuberculosis can result from the general poor condition of the body. Arthritis is another long-term result of heroin addiction.
The addict lifestyle—where heroin users often share their needles—leads to AIDS and other contagious infections. It is estimated that of the 35,000 new hepatitis C2 (liver disease) infections each year in the United States, over 70% are from drug users who use needles. (Information courtesy of drugfreeworld.org)
What are the overdose effects?
If you take an overdose of heroin, it can stop your breathing and kill you.
What are the long-term effects?
Long term effects include:
- Bad teeth
- Inflammation of the gums
- Cold sweats
- Weakening of the immune system
- Respiratory (breathing) illnesses
- Muscular weakness, partial paralysis
- Reduced sexual capacity and long-term impotence in men
- Menstrual disturbance in women
- Inability to achieve orgasm (women and men)
- Loss of memory and intellectual performance
- Pustules on the face
- Loss of appetite
What is the legal status in the United States?
Heroin is illegal in the United States. In Illinois, it is a felony to possess and/or manufacture Heroin (720 Il Comp. Stat. 570/200).
(Information courtesy of NIDA)