Heroin Facts: What You Need to Know

Learning about Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous drug. In recent years, heroin use has increased to crisis levels, and overdoses have become more and more common across the country. Heroin overdoses are a particular risk because the amount and purity of this widely available street drug cannot be accurately known. [See: Heroin Addiction Treatment.]

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, which is a natural substance that can be extracted from opium poppy plants. Heroin enters the brain rapidly and connects to parts of the brain involved in feelings of pain and pleasure as well as those that control heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

When you or someone you love becomes dependent on a very addictive drug like heroin, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible, because the effects can be devastating.

Here are the facts about heroin

Class of drug: Narcotic/Opiate
Main active ingredient: Morphine, which is processed and extracted from certain poppy plants
What it looks like: Powder (white to dark brown), tar-like substance
Street names: Smack, Horse, Brown Sugar, Junk, Mud, Big H, Black Tar, White Boy
How it is used: Injected, inhaled or smoked
Duration of high: Euphoria sets in within seven seconds when the drug is injected into a vein. If it’s injected into a muscle, it takes two to five minutes. If the drug is sniffed or smoked, the effects can take 10 to 15 minutes. The high lasts from 10 to 30 minutes. Euphoria is followed by lethargy, sleepiness and apathy.
Withdrawal symptoms: Withdrawal can cause restlessness, yawning, muscle and bone pain, cold flashes with goose bumps, diarrhea, vomiting and insomnia. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 24 to 48 hours after the last dose and can take a week to decline. Heroin withdrawal is never fatal in otherwise healthy adults.
Detected in the body: One to three days
Immediate effects: A rush, accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth and heavy feeling in the extremities, slowed breathing, slowed heart function, reduction in pain, clouded mental functioning
Long-term effects: Contaminated injection equipment may transmit diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, or cause collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, and tuberculosis


Sources: American Medical Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug Abuse Warning Network, National Drug Intelligence Center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

The impact of gateway drugs

Most heroin users start with other drugs. Many heroin users start by using prescription pain relievers like Vicodin or OxyContin. When a person’s doctor no longer supplies a prescription for these pharmaceutical drugs, some try to buy them on the street. However, these drugs are costly to buy illegally, so many users turn to the less costly alternative: heroin.

Other people start with marijuana and alcohol and then begin seeking a stronger high. Parents shouldn’t minimize the impact of any drug, even alcohol, because these substances can lead to the use of heroin and other dangerous drugs.

For more facts about heroin, its use and abuse, and how you or your loved one can get effective treatment, call Rosecrance at (866) 330-8729.