Heroin: A History of Abuse and Addiction

Other names used: H, horse, junk, smack, black tar, dope.

Heroin is the among the nation's top five abused substances and one of the most addictive of the opiates. It's presently riding a crest of popularity particularly with young people who now consider it both "fashionable and glamorous. " The drug has been identified over recent years with the music and fashion industry and has seen purity rise at decreased prices to users.

Heroin is refined from morphine, itself a product of the opium poppy. It is known by many names among users and is sold in powder and "tar" forms. Pure heroin can be deadly and is usually "cut" or diluted with substances such as sugar, powdered milk, or starch. The long established term, "junkie" derives from this mixing and cutting process.

Since it is nearly impossible for the street buyer to gauge the strength and purity of the drug, or the mix formula, the risk of overdose is high. Death from street heroin is always a possibility for the user. Special health problems are also common from sharing of needles and include HIV and hepatitis. Intravenous and muscular injections remain the predominant method of use. Sniffing or smoking are also forms of administration but the user "rush" is slower and less intense than intravenous injection. All three forms of usage are addictive across the board.

In recent years researchers have observed a shift in heroin use patterns from injection to sniffing and smoking. Preferences seem determined by users geographically and by social environment. Young, new heroin users are a fast growing segment of the "market. " Many are being lured into using by the high-purity, less expensive drug now being sold on the street.

Some Effects of Heroin Use:
Since heroin enters the brain so rapidly, generating a "rush" of euphoria, it is particularly addictive. Then soon, mental functions are clouded by its effect on the nervous system. The heart is slowed down and breathing diminishes. Overdose is at very high risk because purity is so uncertain with street dealers.

One of the most damaging, long-terms effects is addiction. A chronic, relapsing disease, addiction includes compulsive drug demand brought about by brain changes starting often with initial usage. Quickly building tolerance and dependency within the individual, more and more effort is directed toward obtaining and using the drug.

After physical dependency sets in the body adjusts to heroin and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly. Those symptoms include anxiety, muscle and bone pain, cold chills and uncontrolled leg movements. The major symptoms appear quickly and last up to 48 hours after the last drug dose. These commonly subside after about one week, however, in some individual instances withdrawal signs have persisted for many months.

Because many heroin addicts share needles and other injection equipment they are at high risk for contracting HIV and other diseases. Drug abuse is the fastest growing cause of HIV spread in the U.S. according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Some added facts about heroin:
  • Heroin is highly addictive and from its very first use has been known to establish psychological dependency.
  • Heroin will effect both speech and mobility. Respiratory functions can become depressed and in severe levels of "high grade" heroin death will result.
  • With heroin usage itching rashes, dry skin and infections from dirty needles are common. So-called, "track marks" are markers of long term usage.
  • Heroin greatly increases risk of HIV and hepatitis infections from shared needles and non-sterile injections.
  • Users of heroin develop increased tolerances starting almost immediately. As a result, addicts need more and more of the drug to attain desired effects.