What is Heroin?


Heroin is an opioid substance that is made from morphine, which is derived from the seed from an opium plant. The opium plant is typically grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. It is usually in the form of a brown or white powder that is “cut” with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine but can also be a black, sticky material known as “black tar heroin.”

Other names that refer to heroin include:

  • Smack
  • Big H
  • Horse
  • Hell Dust
  • Chiva
  • Negra
  • Junk
  • Brown sugar
  • Skunk

There are currently over 2 million heroin users in the United States today. “Not only are people using heroin, they are also using multiple other substances, including cocaine and prescription opioids. Nearly all people who use heroin also use at least 1 other drug.”

How is Heroin Used

Heroin that is highly pure can be snorted or smoked, which is often more appealing than other forms that would need to be injected. Impure heroin is typically broken down and dissolved, then injected into the skin, veins, or muscles.

Signs of Heroin Use

There are some clear signs or indicators that a person has been using heroin. These signs can include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Lethargy
  • Slurred speech
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nodding out
  • Pupils that don’t respond to light

Side Effects of Heroin Use

  • Shallow breaths
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Sweating

What are the Effects of Heroin?

What is Heroin?

Using drugs continuously for a long period of time can cause many ill health effects and take a toll on the body. Injecting the drug frequently can cause infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, along with collapsed veins. Due to general poor condition of the body, tuberculosis can occur.

Short-term effects

  • A “rush” of strong, euphoric feelings
  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Feelings of being warm and flushed
  • Drowsiness
  • Heavy sensation in the extremities
  • Reduced sensation of pain

Long-term effects

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pustules on the face
  • Tooth decay
  • Depression
  • Introversion
  • Infection
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Damage to the nerves
  • Loss of memory and performance
  • Menstrual disturbance in women
  • Reduced sexual arousal and impotence in men
  • Inflamed gums
  • Muscular weakness, partial paralysis
  • Constipation
  • Viruses
  • bacteria
  • Cold sweats
  • Itching
  • Weakened immune system
  • Coma
  • Respiratory (breathing) illnesses

People who share drug paraphernalia are more likely to suffer from bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C and abscesses.

Overdose from Heroin

Heroin can be one of the most dangerous drugs on the streets, along with having some extreme effects on someone’s body. If used frequently or in high amounts, overdose from heroin is possible.

“According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2016 about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year, that number that has been on the rise since 2007. This trend appears to be driven largely by young adults aged 18–25 among whom there have been the greatest increases.”

Overdosing from heroin can be extremely dangerous and life-threatening. How severe the overdose will be is dependent on the purity of the heroin being used, the individuals age and weight and if other substances are being used along with heroin.

Signs of an Overdose

  • Bluish lips, nails or extremities
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Coma
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Delirium or confusion
  • Weak pulse
  • Extreme drowsiness

How Long is Heroin in Your System?

Typically, someone who uses heroin will have it in their system for at least two days and will be detectable with a drug test. Although, there are some drug tests that have been known to detect it for up to a week in someone’s system. Because heroin has a short half-life, it is not usually detected in saliva or blood because it will exit the system within 5-6 hours.

The most sensitive drug test for heroin is through a hair follicle test. It is possible to detect heroin for up to three months in someone’s system. It’s also important to note that for long-time heroin users, it can be detected for much longer in their systems.

The factors that influence how long it will be in your system include:

  1. Age
  2. Height and weight
  3. Genetics
  4. Body fat content
  5. Metabolism rate
  6. Quality of drug
  7. Hydrations
  8. Health of the kidneys and liver

Withdrawal from Heroin

  • Tremors
  • Cramps
  • Muscle or bone pain
  • Chills
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme craving
  • Body weakness

Addiction to Heroin

Heroin can be highly addictive due to its’ euphoric effects and dependence it causes upon using it.

“People who regularly use heroin often develop a tolerance, which means that they need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects.”

People who use heroin often and become addicted have a higher chance of engaging in reckless or dangerous behavior. They are also more likely to induce self-harm or commit suicide. When a person experiences a withdrawal from heroin, it can cause them to go into a deep depression, and this is sometimes enough for the person to commit suicide.

Treatment for Heroin

It is possible to recover from a drug addiction problem. With the proper support team or treatment center a person can become sober and maintain a lifestyle that remains free from drugs. A variety of treatment options are available to treat heroin addiction that include behavioral approaches and drug replacement therapies.

Types of Treatment

Drug Replacement Therapy– Using physician prescribed replacement drugs such as Suboxone, Methadone and Morphine derivatives instead of the “street drug” as a daily alternative to help the person come clean from using.

Complete Detoxification– Detoxification, or getting rid of the substance from your body, can happen in either a residential or medical facility. This is the most ideal scenario for someone who wants to live a one hundred percent clean and sober lifestyle.

Residential Treatment Center– A person who chooses complete abstinence from drugs will have the most success in a residential treatment center for at least 30-90 days.

12-Step Programs- These help programs are offered at no cost to the individual such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Does Treatment work?

People can remain drug free if they find the right program that will meet their needs. Every individual is different and is experiencing different circumstances. If they are confident about getting clean from drugs and work hard at their sobriety, it is possible for them to recover.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous or NA refers to a fellowship that meets regularly to help each other stay clean. It is program that stays completely abstinent from all drugs. The 12-step program is a positive program that has tools to make recovery possible.

“In N.A., we follow a program adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous. More than one million people have recovered in A.A., most of them just as hopelessly addicted to alcohol as we were to drugs. We are grateful to the A.A Fellowship for showing us the way to a new life.” -INTRODUCTION NA Basic Text -pg xv

“We Believe that as a fellowship, we have been guided by a Greater Consciousness, and are grateful for the direction that has enabled us to build upon a proven program of recovery.” -INTRODUCTION NA Basic Text -pg xv

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug addiction problem, it’s important to get help right away. There are treatment options available near you that can help with the symptoms associated with a drug addiction problem.


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