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Article Summary

About Heroin

Heroin is a powerfully addictive opiate which is one of the most widely abused illegal drugs in the world. Globally, there are an estimated 20 million people aged 15 to 65 who abuse the drug. Heroin is readily available as a white or brown powder, or as a black and sticky form of the drug (which is considered the least pure). On the streets, heroin has a variety of names such as "smack", "junk" and "H". Ultra pure heroin is becoming more and more common to find, although the drug is sometimes combined with other drugs or substances such as various powders or even quinine. This is typically done so that the drug dealers can make more money, as they will ultimately have more product to sell. However, this leaves heroin users in a position of not really knowing how pure the heroin is that they are taking at any given time which makes the possibility of overdose and death much more likely.

How Heroin is Used

There are a variety of ways that heroin can be administered including directly into the bloodstream via injection, it can be insufflated (snorted) and it can also be smoked. Each method of administration of the drug causes an intense sense of pleasure and euphoria known as a rush or a high. Heroin injection provides the most rapid onset of effects while also providing the most intense heroin high. When someone injects heroin into a vein, within just a few seconds they are hit with the most intense high that heroin has to offer. Inject heroin into a muscle and you will experience a high within a few minutes. Insufflation and smoking will produce a high within 10 to 15 minutes.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Because heroin crosses the blood/brain barrier to quickly, a heroin high can be particularly addictive. How intense a heroin high is depends on dosage, but users will most likely experience a calmness and sense of euphoria accompanied by a feeling of heaviness in one's extremities as well as a dry mouth and flushing of the skin. Soon to follow are some not so pleasant sensation, such as a feeling of nausea which may cause vomiting as well as intense itching. After the initial rush has passed, individuals will typically feel drowsy and listless for anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, which can also be accompanied by clouded mental function. Cardiovascular and respiratory function will also be significantly affected and slowed during this time, which is a very worrisome side effect which can be fatal.

Route of Administration

While injection is and has always been the most popular method of administration of heroin, more and more people are choosing to snort or smoke the drug. Injecting any drug comes with stigmas attached, so it is becoming more socially acceptable to smoke or inhale heroin. This doesn't make using heroin any safer for the individual taking the drug, it just opens the door for a larger and more diverse group of heroin users. The over 30 age group has been the largest group of individuals who use heroin, but with the emerging trend to snort or smoke the drug, there has been a budding younger generation of heroin users emerging who have access to high quality yet inexpensive heroin which can be administered in this way.

Risks of Injection

Individuals who do choose to inject heroin will use whatever needle they can get their hands on to inject the drug. Needle sharing is one of the leading causes of infectious disease around the world, and heroin users who do choose to inject using a pre-used needle are putting themselves at risk of contracting a deadly disease each time they shoot up. To back this up with statistics, injection drug use is a factor in an estimated one-third of Americans who infected with HIV, the precursor to AIDS. As an epidemic, drug abuse is one of the most propelling elements for the spread of HIV around the world and particularly in the U.S.

Aside from HIV/AIDS, various forms of Hepatitis which causes a myriad of symptoms, all of which can be life threatening, is another common virus which is spread by needle sharing. Hepatitis mainly affects the liver and results in jaundice and liver cirrhosis, with the most common form of the virus being Hepatitis B which is 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDS. Hepatitis C is the most serious form of the virus which is the leading cause of individuals needing liver transplants. There are over 4 million people in the country who have Hepatitis C and thousands of people lose their lives to this disease each year.

Injection use also presents problems as a result of vascular issues and other health issues as a result of vein damage. Administering heroin by injection can lead to vein scarring or even collapsed veins, as well as bacterial infections and abscesses. This can ultimately lead to widespread infection in the body, resulting in serious health consequences such as organ failure. Individuals who inject heroin also have a tendency to use the same spot to inject, leading in scarring or "track marks" in these areas.

Heroin Withdrawal

A heroin habit can be one of the most difficult to kick, as an individual will need to continually use heroin on a daily basis in order to beat gruesome withdrawal symptoms. If an individual doesn't get more of the drug, they will begin experiencing heroin withdrawal within a matter of hours which can be particularly punishing. Common withdrawal symptoms are muscle and bone pain, body aches, insomnia, nausea, vomiting and leg movements, all of which can be quite intense. While these symptoms are only temporary and will soon pass, within a few days to a week, individuals will crave heroin so intensely that they will just begin abusing the drug again.


Because of the high risk of addiction and dependence to the drug, heroin users will typically never get off of the drug without help. It is extremely uncommon for a heroin addict to beat this type of addiction on their own and many heroin addicts have lost their lives to this epidemic. There are a number of drug rehab programs which can successfully treat heroin addiction, and it is recommended that a heroin addicted individual choose an inpatient or residential program which requires at least a 90 day stay to ensure they reap the full benefits of the program.

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