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What are the signs and symptoms of Heroin abuse?

Heroin is an Opiate. Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a component of opium, contained in the sap of the opium poppy. China White is a very high grade of heroin, and it typically what people are referring to when they talk about heroin. Skilled chemists working for organized crime syndicates convert raw opium from poppies into heroin. The chemical compounds thebaine, codeine, and morphine are extracted from opium, and the morphine is converted into diacetyl morphine, also known as heroin. The heroin is then cut or stepped on with a variety of white water-soluble substances including cornstarch, mannitol, baking soda, baking powder, confectionary sugar, and even strychnine, (rat poison) to reach about 30% - <10% purity by the time it reaches the user. This is done to maximize volume and profit.

Mexican Black tar is another type of heroin, considered inferior quality but acceptable by users. Its consistency varies, from a sticky and gooey, to hard black/brown substance, with a strong vinegar smell. It is processed sloppily, with an interchangeable variety of chemicals in often randomly measured amounts. This results in a +/- 40% variation in purity. The black tar is cut with antihistamines and brown sugar supposedly to alleviate side effects of a runny nose and sleepiness, though this will not work. It will again, maximize product weight and volume and therefore profit. 

How Heroin is used?

Heroin is typically is taken by snorting (intra-nasal) IV, (Intra-venous) SC, (subcutaneous, or skin popping) or smoking.  

What are the effects of Heroin on the user?

When injected or snorted, the effects of heroin are intense and almost immediate, acting within seconds. The user will experience a rush, which is a full-body orgasmic sensation, and may have a secondary orgasm. This sensation will subside, and be followed by several hours of:  

  • Analgesia (relief of pain)
  • Euphoria or a very relaxed, pleasant feeling
  • Somnolence (sleepiness and nodding) 
  • A pleasant warmth, and flushing

Effects which are not enjoyable include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Intense itching. Users describe it as feeling like your bones are itching. 
  • Ejaculatory delay or failure
  • Reduced libido

Effects which are dangerous include: 

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Bradycardia, which is a slow heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

Use onset and progression

Many people begin using heroin by legitimate medical use of related pain medication, e.g., synthetic opiates, for severe or chronic pain. This can lead to dependency, and switching over to heroin, one of the most potent opiates. Other people who have a history of addiction may progress from smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol to opiates of increasing potency. Adolescents or young adults unaware of the effects and addictive potential may become dependent, and the elderly with chronic pain may develop dependence. Typically people start with low dose, low potency synthetic opiates, which are related to heroin. They are taken orally, as prescribed, but then people may begin chewing them to speed release and absorption They progress to snorting, then smoking or skin-popping, and IV use. Increasingly potent types and dose amounts will be used as ones tolerance for the drug increases. As one’s body adapts to the presence of heroin, it will furiously demand more about every 24 hours. Failure to deliver will result in withdrawal symptoms, which can persist up to a week in a severe, acute phase, and the user may not feel completely well for up to a month. Withdrawal symptoms can also be halted and reversed almost immediately with another injection or snort of heroin. This is the conundrum that heroin addicts put themselves into. Withdrawal symptoms are as follows: 

  • Lacrimation, or watery, tearing eyes
  • Rhinitis or runny nose
  • Nausea and projectile vomiting
  • Stomach cramps and severe, explosive diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps, joint aches, and bone aches
  • Headache
  • Profuse diaphoresis or sweating.
  • Piloerection, or goosebumps and chills. 

Short-term and long-term risks of using Heroin

An overdose of heroin can result in the heartrate slowly winding down, respiratory depression, or taking slow shallow breaths which will not inflate the lungs completely, and respiratory failure, which will result in death. 

Another danger is not the drug itself, but how it is administered. Anytime one inserts a hypodermic needle into their body, there are significant risks. If the vein is penetrated through and through, there will be a hematoma, or bleeding under the skin, visible as a linear bruise, or track mark. Failure to clean the skin at the injection site or using a dirty needle can result in an infection or abscess at the injection site. Failure to have the abscess treated can lead to gangrene, which is tissue death, which can result in amputation above the area of dead tissue. An intramuscular or intravenous injection should not be given by anyone who has not had proper training. 

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is another concern for anyone who shares needles. HIV is a blood-borne disease, which will lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS is 100.0 % fatal without treatment. Hepatitis C is another blood borne disease that can occur from sharing needles. It is survivable with proper treatment, but very serious. 

Myocarditis and pericarditis are infections of the heart muscle and membrane sack surrounding the heart, respectively. They are both potentially fatal without treatment, and are caused by injecting heroin that has been mixed with a dirty liquid. Water out of the faucet qualifies. Municipal tap water, while safe to drink, has enough microorganisms present to multiply and create a fatal infection if injected. 

Involvement in the drug trade is another danger. Those who buy heroin will be dealing with very serious individuals, who do not accept any insults, offense, or disrespect and demand prompt payment. They will not hesitate to use violence if payment is not forthcoming, or if they feel disrespected in any way. And don’t forget purchase and possession of heroin is a criminal offense. 


The counterfeit, artificial pleasure that comes from heroin does not even come close to equaling the agonizing misery of withdrawal, the risk of life threatening disease, assault, rape or homicide from disgruntled dealers, incarceration, and the many ways life is rendered unmanageable through addiction.