Heroin (diacetylmorphine or morphine diacetate, also known as diamorphine, is an opioid analgesic synthesized by C.R. Alder Wright in 1874 by adding two acetyl groups to the molecule morphine, found in the opium poppy. It is the 3,6-diacetyl ester of morphine. Heroin itself is an active drug, but it is also converted into morphine in the body.

When used in medicine it is typically used to treat severe pain, such as that resulting from a heart attack or a severe injury. The name “heroin” is only used when being discussed in its illegal form. When it is used in a medical environment, it is referred to as diamorphine. The white crystalline form considered “pure heroin” is usually the hydrochloride salt, diacetylmorphine hydrochloride.

Street Names – H, smack, horse, brown, black, tar, china white, junk

Effects – Heroin is used as a recreational drug for the transcendent relaxation and intense euphoria it induces. Anthropologist Michael Agar once described heroin as “the perfect whatever drug” because it induces a state of numbed euphoria

Long-term use Tolerance develops quickly, and users need more of the drug to achieve the same effects. But like most opioids, unadulterated heroin ITSELF does not cause many long-term complications other than dependence and constipation. Intravenous use of heroin (and any other substance) with non-sterile needles and syringes or other related equipment may lead to:

  • The risk of contracting blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis by the sharing of needles
  • The risk of contracting bacterial or fungal endocarditis and possibly venous sclerosis
  • Abscesses
  • Poisoning from contaminants added to “cut” or dilute heroin
  • Physical dependence can result from prolonged use of all opioids, resulting in withdrawal symptoms on cessation of use
  • Decreased kidney function (although it is not currently known if this is because of adulterants or infectious diseases)

Withdrawal Symptoms – The withdrawal syndrome from heroin (the so-called “cold turkey“) may begin within 6 to 24 hours of discontinuation of the drug; however, this time frame can fluctuate with the degree of tolerance as well as the amount of the last consumed dose. Symptoms may include: sweating, malaise, anxiety, depression, akathisia, priapism, extra sensitivity of the genitals in females, general feeling of heaviness, excessive yawning or sneezing, tears, rhinorrhea, sleep difficulties (insomnia), cold sweats, chills, severe muscle and bone aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,cramps, watery eyes, fever and cramp-like pains and involuntary spasms in the limbs (thought to be an origin of the term “kicking the habit”

Statistics – More than 53 percent of all heroin-associated deaths statewide are between 15 and 35 years of age.

-According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, initiations to heroin have increased 80 percent since 2002.

-The majority of youth aged 12 to 17 entering public treatment for heroin across the nation were white (76 percent), followed by Latinos (16 percent), with only 2 percent of those entering treatment being African American.

-Officials believe the crackdown on meth and cocaine has prompted some to turn to heroin.

Over a tenth of the 1.5 million emergency room patient visits due to drug abuse or overdose were attributed to heroin users in the year 2005.

-Over half of the accidental deaths that occurred due to drug abuse or overdose in the year 2008 involved the use of heroin.

-Heroin overdose rates have grown at double-digit rates for man and women over the age of 35 all over the world.

-The fourth leading cause of death in the age group of people between 25 and 49 is due to overdose of illicit drugs.