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What is Heroin?

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid made from morphine which is a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of a specific poppy plant. Heroin is a highly addictive drug and has a high potential for fatal overdose because of the varying tolerance level (the need for bigger dosage to get the initial effect of the drug) of the individual using it and its variable purity found on the street.


Seed Pod of a Poppy

The seed pod of the poppy flower

Heroin an Opioid

An opioid is a synthetic or partly synthetic analgesic substance, meaning that parts of it or the whole do not occur in nature it is partly or fully man-made. Common opioids are Demerol, Methadone, Percocet and heroin to name a few.

An opiate is an analgesic substance that comes from the opium poppy flower and can be found in nature. Common opiates are morphine and codeine; both are directly made from the poppy plant.


Heroin History

In 1874, an English chemist C. R. Alder Wright discovered heroin when trying to develop a new pain-killer that would be as powerful as morphine with less addictive properties. By mixing and heating morphine with different acids he developed heroin, a new alternative to morphine. The drug gained popularity 23 years later when it was re-synthesized by another chemist Felix Hoffmann who worked for a German pharmaceutical company.

In the early 20th century this German company, named Bayer, marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction, as well as a cough suppressant. Later it was discovered that heroin metabolizes quickly into morphine in the body, making it a fast acting type of morphine. Heroin quickly became a drug with one of the highest addiction rate. Heroin addiction or its abuse is a serious socio-economical problem worldwide. Heroin is 1.5 to 2 times as powerful as morphine.


Heroin powder

Heroin powder

The Drug

Heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted. There is a wide range of health risks with injection but smoking and snorting, although deemed less dangerous for transmitted diseases, are not harmless in fact respiratory problems from smoking, and sinus infections from snorting are a risk.

Heroin has several street names, here are a few: junk, H, big H, smack, horse, skag, dope, black tar, brown sugar, china white.


Heroin’s Effects

The effects felt from heroin include;

    • Euphoria or “Rush”,
    • a sense of warmth and well-being,
    • a feeling of being disconnected from the real world,
    • drowsiness,
    • relaxation.

These effects can last for several hours. Following the initial euphoria or “rush” the user will be very drowsy and relaxed; he may alternate from an alert state to a drowsy state called nodding or gouching. Mental functions are clouded, and completion of simple tasks can become difficult.

Other effects include:

    • slowed and slurred speech,
    • dry mouth,
    • itchiness,
    • pinned pupils,
    • nausea,
    • drooping eyelids,
    • vomiting and
    • constipation.

Some new heroin users will have an increased energy from the drug.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

    • Reduced sexual capacity and long-term impotence in men
    • Menstrual disturbance in women
    • Inability to achieve orgasm (women and men)
    • Loss of memory
    • Loss of intellectual performance
    • Introversion
    • Depression
    • Loss of appetite
    • Insomnia
    • Bad teeth
    • Inflammation of the gums
    • Constipation

It is difficult to wake a person who is under the influence of heroin but the person should respond in some way to audio or physical attempts, if they don’t there is a possibility of an overdose call 9-1-1 for help.


Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin’s withdrawal symptoms can vary in time and intensity. Generally the symptoms start 6 to 12 hours after the person last used, and gradually intensifying over the following 3 days, then subsiding in 5 to 7 days. Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can include the following:

  • Restlessness,
  • Aches and pains in the bones,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Severe discomfort.
  • Excessive body fluids (sweat, tears, and a runny nose)
  • Fever
  • Sleep problems (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep)
  • Feeling depressed, anxious or irritable
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goose bumps


Prescription Opioid Abuse: The First Step to Heroin Use

In recent studies nearly fifty per cent of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription drugs (opioids) before the use of heroin. Some reported using heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids like Oxycontin.


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