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Facts About Heroin

Heroin addiction is part of the opioid crisis that’s been ravaging the U.S. for over a decade. Heroin overdose deaths continue to rise taking the lives of thousands every year. It’s an epidemic that sees no end in sight. Even when heroin doesn’t kill, it can have health consequences that last a lifetime.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is made from the seed pods of the plant and mixed with different chemicals or additives before it takes the form that’s sold on the streets.  Other opioid drugs include:
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl
The difference is those are prescription painkillers while heroin is a drug made illegally. Just like heroin, opioid prescription painkillers are widely abused and often diverted to the streets. Heroin is usually mixed with solvents for injection, but some heroin users smoke or snort it. 

Brief History of Heroin

Heroin can trace its roots in America back to the late 1800s when it was used as a painkiller, but heroin’s history begins with opium. As opium trading routes spread through Europe and Asia, opium use increased worldwide and eventually made its way to the United States through Chinese migration to work on the railroads and the 1849 gold rush. In America, opium dens became popular in San Francisco and spread west to New York. Some areas became populated with opium dens, where the drug could be bought, sold, and smoked. 

The civil war

During the Civil War, morphine use was widespread among injured soldiers between 1861 and 1865. Morphine is the narcotic ingredient in opium which is 10 times stronger in its pure form. Morphine was first isolated from opium in 1803, by a German scientist, Friedrich Sertürner. As nearly 400,000 morphine-addicted soldiers returned home from the Civil War, an effort to find a less addictive painkiller led to the 1874 development of heroin, which was branded and marketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals in the late 1890s.

Early attempts to curb the spread of heroin

Despite their analgesic benefits, the addictive dangers of heroin and morphine became a health and social concern by the end of the century. By then, federal legislation was introduced to curb the addiction epidemic of the time.
  1. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 Signed into law on May 6, prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers.
  2. Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 Signed into law on December 17, effectively outlawed the recreational use of narcotics including cocaine by requiring registration and taxation of all transactions including importation.
Although the Harrison Narcotics Act seemed to reduce heroin and opioid use in the country, the threat never really went away. During the 1900s, synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids were developed and approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) beginning in the 1910s. Federal laws were introduced to attempt to regulate and safely market prescription medications. The Pure Food and Drug Act required drugs containing morphine to indicate the quantity of the narcotic drug on the label. A supplemental law to the Pure Food and Drug Act was the 1938 Food and Drug Cosmetic Act (FDCA), which required manufacturers to test their products for safety in patient trials. 

The current opioid epidemic

Percocet, a short-acting combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen had been introduced by 1976, followed by long-acting formulations of morphine, such as MS-Contin in 1985. After that, 1995 marked the birth of what is the current opioid epidemic with the introduction of OxyContin®. From the 1800s through today, the addictive and dangerous nature of opiates has been demonstrated, attempted to be reduced, and at the center of health and social crises in the United States. Heroin is currently classified as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means it has no medical purpose and comes with a high potential for abuse and addiction.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

A heroin high can last from one to four hours depending on the way you take it. However, heroin can be detected in your system after the high is over, before it leaves your body. Factors that affect how long heroin can be detected in your system depends on things like:
  • How much heroin you took
  • When you took your last does of heroin
  • Your physical health
  • The rate of your metabolism
  • Age, height, and weight
The time heroin can be detected in your system also depends on the type of drug test. Urine, saliva, and blood tests may only be able to detect heroin for around 7 hours but in some cases can detect it up to 2 days. Hair tests offer the longest detection time for heroin — up to 3 months or more. Testing for heroin “detection windows” are as follows:
  • Urine test: up to 48 hours
  • Hair test: 3 months or more
  • Saliva test: up to 48 hours
  • Blood test: up to 48 hours

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin looks different depending on its form. In pure form, heroin is a white powder that is fine like flour or sugar. When drug dealers cut heroin with other substances, it may have different shades to it — pink, brown, gray, and black. Black tar heroin is a popular, cheaper form of heroin that looks like a black sticky substance. 

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Like other opioids, heroin doesn’t have much of an odor in its pure form. What gives heroin a smell is the substance it’s cut with. Drug dealers mix heroin with a variety of chemicals, additives, and toxins. Depending on what’s in heroin, it might smell acidic like vinegar or cat urine.

What Does Heroin Taste Like?

Heroin doesn’t have much of a taste. Sometimes it has a bitter taste. Just like the smell of heroin, the taste of heroin takes on that of whatever substances it’s been cut with. These substances can range from baking soda and flour to rat poison and detergent. Depending on the cutting agent, heroin may taste sweet or acidic.

Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin is derived from the poppy plant found in areas including:
  • Afghanistan
  • Southwest Asia
  • Southeast Asia
  • Mexico
  • South America
  • Myanmar

Street Names for Heroin

Heroin goes by several different names on the streets, including:
  • Dope
  • China White
  • Big H
  • H
  • Smack
  • Black Tar
  • Black Pearl
  • Dragon
  • Snow
  • Mexican Mud
  • Brown Sugar
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Chiva
  • Chiba
  • White Boy
  • Whit Girl

How Do People Take Heroin?

Heroin is most commonly known as an injection drug. Many people dissolve it in water and inject heroin directly into their veins because it provides the quickest, most intense high. Heroin enters the brain within seconds when injecting it. Heroin can also be snorted or smoked. People smoke heroin by cooking it on a piece of foil or other means to inhale it. Heroin is snorted in powder form, similar to cocaine.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

The euphoric feeling that heroin provides often leads to addiction. People who use heroin say the high of heroin is the best feeling they’ve ever had. This compels them to continuously chase that feeling again. The problem is that tolerance to heroin develops quickly. It becomes harder and harder to get the euphoric feeling of those first heroin uses. 

Short-term effects of heroin may include:

  • A heavy feeling
  • A rush of pleasure
  • Euphoria
  • Intense relaxation
  • Feeling uninhibited
  • Warmth
  • Slow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Disconnection from reality

After the initial high wears off, effects that can be more long-term and last hours or days include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Sleep issues

When you have an addiction to heroin, the pleasurable feelings get harder to obtain. Your central nervous system begins to depend on heroin to function. Without heroin, you go into withdrawal. At this point, you have a physical dependence on heroin. Using it becomes more about keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay rather than obtaining pleasure.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatments are medicines that help ease heroin withdrawal symptoms and cravings. They attach to your opioid receptors in similar ways as heroin. The difference is that the medications don’t make you feel high. MATs are used in tandem with behavioral therapy approaches. Without the distraction of heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms, some people are better able to focus on getting better and learning relapse-prevention skills.

What Are Long-Term Effects of Heroin?

Regular use of heroin puts you at increased risk for several physical and mental health conditions. Some of these are due to the method of using heroin, like injecting it with shared needles. Other conditions are directly related to the drug. Still others are due to lifestyle habits that come with drug addiction such as poor nutrition and other ways you neglect your health. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports these risks of heroin abuse for long-term heroin users:    
  • HIV and hepatitis 
  • Infections of the heart lining and valves
  • Heart attack
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Infected sores
  • Collapsed veins
  • Inflamed stomach tissue
  • Intestinal holes
  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Drug overdose
  • Brain damage
  • Liver and kidney issues
  • Coma

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction treatment saves lives. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, call us for a free, confidential consultation. Our evidence-based treatment programs for substance use disorders have helped thousands of clients take back their lives. We can help you too.  Features of Vogue Recovery Center’s treatment programs include:
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Co-occurring disorders / dual diagnosis treatment
  • Medical detox for drug and alcohol abuse
  • Residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, outpatient programs, and sober living residences
  • Holistic treatment approaches like art therapy, music therapy, yoga, and nutrition
  • Trauma therapies like EMDR
  • Highly experienced behavioral health team
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Home-like settings with plenty of amenities
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