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Article Summary

Heroin Health Effects

As with most illegal drugs, Heroin use has both short-term and long-term effects. Whether injected, snorted or smoked, heroin will begin to affect the body's central nervous system almost immediately after it is used.

Short-Term Effects

Shortly after using, a feeling of euphoria will come over users, in which they have a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth and the feeling of having "heavy" arms and legs. After the initial rush, users will go into an alternately wakeful and drowsy state sometimes called "on the nod."
Because heroin suppresses the central nervous system, the user experiences "cloudy" mental function. Users will begin to breathe at a slower rate and their breathing can reach a point of respiratory failure.

Long-Term Effects

Repeated and chronic heroin users will begin to experience the long-term effects of the drug, which can include:

  • Infection of the heart lining and valves.
  • Liver disease.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Pulmonary complications

Additionally, those who inject heroin can have additional long-term complications, including exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne viruses.

Approximately 70–80 percent of new Hepatitis C infections in the U.S. each year are the result of injection drug use.
Chronic injectors can also experience scarred or collapsed veins, abscesses, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

Overdose

The most serious health effect of heroin use is the possibility of death due to accidental overdose.
Because heroin is an illegal drug and can be handled and cut (mixed with other ingredients) by various suppliers before it reaches street-level users, those who use the drug never know how potent or pure the heroin they are using is until they use it.

Heroin is often mixed with sugar, starch, quinine, and sometimes, strychnine or other poisons, adding other potential dangers. Because of the unknown strength and actual contents of the heroin they are taking, users are at a great risk of overdose and death.

Addiction

Another dangerous effect of heroin use is the highly addictive nature of the drug. All heroin users, even those who only snort or smoke the drug, can become addicted with repeated use.
Over time, heroin users develop a tolerance for the drug requiring them to use increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same feeling they experienced when they first began to use.

After awhile, the tolerance level to the drug rises to the level that heroin use in any amount stops producing the euphoric effect the user once experience altogether. When this occurs, the addict continues to seek and take the drug just to feel "normal." They become physically dependent upon the drug.

Withdrawal

When people addicted to heroin try to stop using they can experience extreme withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms can include:

  • Extreme craving for the drug.
  • Restlessness.
  • Muscle and bone pain.
  • Vomiting.

The most severe heroin withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after stopping use and can last up until a week.

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