Diacetylmorphine (C21H23NO5) is
the chemical name for street heroin. A narcotic derivative of the opium
poppy plant, heroin falls into the class of drugs known as
“opiates.” Opiates are derived from the dried “milk” of the
opium poppy, which contains morphine and codeine, both of which are
effective painkillers and are used in many prescription medicines (Opioids,
on the other hand, are synthetically derived opiate-like drugs). On the
street heroin is known as “Smack”, “Junk”, “Skag”,
“Shit”, “H”, “Brown”, “Horse”,
“Dope” and “Boy”.
Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Most heroin is
distributed in powder form and may vary in color from white to dark
brown due to the impurities left from the manufacturing process or the
presence of additives and diluting agents. There is also a less-refined
form of heroin known as “Black Tar” made predominantly in
Mexico, which is a gooey black or brownish substance. Heroin is illegal
in the U.S. for any use.
Although Sumerian texts from 6,000 years ago refer to the
opium poppy as the “joy” plant, heroin itself was not
developed until 1874 and was originally marketed as a safe,
non-addictive substitute for morphine. However, it too was soon found to
produce a severe dependency very quickly. Heroin and opiates were made
illegal in 1915 with the Harrison Narcotic Act, which controlled the
sale of opium and opium derivatives, and cocaine.
Heroin is used in a number of ways: Injected into a vein
(“mainlining”), injected into a muscle, smoked in a water pipe
or standard pipe, mixed in a marijuana joint or regular cigarette,
inhaled as smoke through a straw ( known as “chasing the
dragon”), snorted as powder via the nose.
On the street, powdered heroin is usually sold in glassine bags
weighing about 100mg or 1/10th of one gram. Black tar heroin
is sold by the gram weight. The purity of street heroin has skyrocketed
in the last twenty years. In 1980 the average bag of street heroin was
4% pure; the average street bag today is 34% pure and can be as pure as
Heroin is, generally speaking, a sedative, and induces a
euphoric, drowsy, warm and content feeling. They also relieve stress and
discomfort by creating a relaxed detachment from pain, desires and
activity. As well as killing pain, moderate doses of pure opiates
produce a range of mild effects. They depress the activity of the
nervous system, including such reflexes as coughing, breathing and heart
rate. They also cause widening of the blood vessels, which gives a
feeling of warmth and reduces bowel activity, causing constipation.
With doses high enough to produce euphoria, there is still little
change in coordination. At higher doses though, sedation can be extreme
and an overdose can result in unconsciousness, coma and often death from
respiratory failure. The chance of an overdose is greatly increased if
other depressant drugs such as alcohol or tranquilizers are being used
at the same time.
Heroin is a highly addictive substance and can produce
dependence within only a few days of regular use. Because mild
withdrawal symptoms are similar to the flu, users often don’t realize
their “sickness” is actually withdrawal.
Physical Dependence: extreme
Psychological Dependence: extreme
Once addicted, the acute physical withdrawal is grueling and peaks
between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose. The intense part of
withdrawal lasts for 3-5 days, while protracted effects can last for
months. During this time, symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea,
cramping, muscle and bone pain, cold flashes with goose bumps, kicking
movements, and severe shaking. It can take months or even years to
recover from the addiction, and fighting the psychological addiction is
often a lifetime battle. During this extended withdrawal, recovering
addicts battle cravings and depression.
As noted above heroin is a highly addictive substance, both
physically and psychologically. Additionally, because of the nature of
addiction, the newly recovering user is often in a somewhat depleted
physical state. Because of this, the first step to treatment is usually
a physical detoxification done in a hospital or medically supervised
setting. After detoxification, residential treatment or twelve-step
programs, such as the ones listed below are generally recommended.
- Narcotics Anonymous
- DEA’s Heroin Page