Years ago, thoughts of using a needle kept many potential heroin users at
bay. Not anymore. Today's heroin is so pure, users can
smoke it or snort it, causing more kids under 18 to use it. Kids who snort or
smoke heroin face the same high risk of overdose and death that haunts
intravenous users. Yet 40% of high school seniors polled do
not believe there is great risk in trying heroin.
Recent studies suggest a shift from injecting to snorting or smoking heroin
because of increased purity and the misconception that these forms of use will
not lead to addiction.
Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted
from the seed-pod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white
or brown powder. Street names associated with heroin include "smack,"
"H," "skag," and
"junk." Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a
specific geographical area, such as "Mexican black tar."
The short-term effects of heroin abuse appear soon after a single dose and
disappear in a few hours. After an injection of heroin, the user reports
feeling a surge of euphoria ("rush") accompanied by a warm flushing
of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Following this initial
euphoria, the user goes "on the nod," an alternately wakeful and
drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the
central nervous system.
Reports from the Drug Abuse Warning Networks (DAWN) Annual Medical Examiner
Data from 1997 show that heroin/morphine was the top-ranking drug among
drug-related deaths in 14 US
major metro areas. It ranked second in another eight.
According to DAWNs Year End 1998 Emergency
Department Data, 14 percent of all emergency department drug-related episodes
had mentions of heroin/morphine in 1998. From 1991-1996, the number of
heroin/morphine mentions more than doubled.
Irreversible effects. Heroin abuse is
associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose,
spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases, including
HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
Long-term effects. Long-term effects of
heroin include collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves,
abscesses, cellulitis, and liver disease. Pulmonary
complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor
health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin's depressing effects on
More info on the Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart
Infection. In addition to the effects of the
drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and
result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or
brain. This can cause infection or even death of small
patches of cells in vital organs.
provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.