Heroin is an addictive drug, and its use is a serious problem in America.
Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance
extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin usually
appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for 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
abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal
overdose, spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and, particularly in
users who inject the drug, infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and
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. Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use
for some period of time. Chronic users may develop 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 respiration.
Heroin abuse during pregnancy and its many associated environmental
factors (e.g., lack of prenatal care) have been associated with adverse
consequences including low birth weight, an important risk factor for
later developmental delay.
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.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network* reports that eight percent of
drug-related emergency department (ED) visits in the third and fourth
quarters of 2003 involved heroin abuse. Unspecified opiates?which could
include heroin?were involved in an additional 4 percent of drug-related
Tolerance, Addiction, and Withdrawal
regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use
more heroin to achieve the same intensity of effect. As higher doses
are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With
physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug
and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped.
Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours
after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness,
muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes
with goose bumps ("cold turkey"), kicking movements ("kicking the
habit"), and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48
and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden
withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is
occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered less
dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal.
Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)