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Drugs of Abuse

Drug Type: Heroin

A potent semisynthetic narcotic which is derived from morphine. Heroin has been estimated six times stronger than morphine.


This is the substance that is derived from the Papaver somniferum poppy plant (not native to the United States). All opiates are derived from opium, to include morphine, heroin, codeine, and thebaine.

Opioids: Synthetic (man-made) drugs which have the same effect as opiates.

Other Names: Heroin: H, smack, horse, junk, black tar, Mexican brown, manteca, teca, and tec. Bindles, bags, and bolsa (spanish for bag), refer to packaging in foil or baggies. A finger refers to 7 to 9 grams of heroin.

Opiates/Opioids listed below are legal with a prescription, but heavily abused:

Opiates: Morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, hydrocodone (Dilaudid), oxycodone (Percodan), Percocet, Tylox

Opioids: Merepidines (Demerol), methadone (Dolophine), propoxyphene (Darvon), fentanyl (Sublimaze), Pentazocine (Talwin)

What it looks like:

Heroin in its pure form is a crystalline powder ranging in color from white to dark brown.

Black-tar heroin is a form of heroin produced in Mexico that may be sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal, and ranges in color from dark brown to black.

Opiates/ Opioids are legal with a prescription. If in liquid form, bottles should be labeled with the tradename, and if in pill form, the markings on one or both sides of the pills serve to identify it. A pharmacist or a Physicians Desk Reference can be used to determine what the pill is based on its markings. Opiates/Opioids that have been diverted (illegally obtained) may be found on the street in a crushed, powdered form, contained in a tiny piece of aluminum foil or tiny plastic bags.

How it is used: Most opiates/opioids are taken orally or injected. Heroin can be snorted, injected or smoked (called "chasing the dragon," heroin is heated on a piece of aluminum foil and the fumes are inhaled)

Effect of the drug:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth, dry skin
  • Nausea, constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Anxiety
  • Slowed heart rate and drop in blood pressure

Negative Effects/Overdose Effects:

Heroin is so powerful that the effects can be felt within seconds depending on the method of ingestion. It is so addictive that users will feel withdrawal symptoms within 6 to 12 hours of the last dose. The withdrawal symptoms for heroin/opiates/opioids are flu-like and include:

  • Disorientation
  • Runny nose, watery eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain/muscle cramps
  • Alternating chills and profuse sweating

Heroin users can never be certain of the potency of the dose they are getting so overdosing is common. Some rates of purity (which determine potency) in heroin samples have been found to be over 90%, while the national average is 41%. Heroin users risk overdose with each and every dose. The effects for heroin overdose and opiate/opioid overdose include:

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Pain, muscle cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat/anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Death

What to look for:

  • Lip licking (due to dry mouth)
  • Slurred speech/lethargy (sleepiness, "nodding off")
  • Constricted pupils
  • Loss of coordination
  • Depressed vital signs
  • Sweating

Paraphernalia Associated with Drug Use:

  • Hypodermic needles/syringes
  • Look for "tracks" on the skin, usually on the inside of the arm. Tracks are marks left by repeated injections. Many heroin addicts will inject in unusual locations, such as in the toes, legs, or neck, to avoid detection by family or law enforcement.
  • Discarded pieces of aluminum foil (called bindles) or tiny plastic baggies (called bags) which are methods of packaging.
  • Cotton balls/spoons/belt, rope, large rubber band (these items are used by the heroin addict for injecting heroin. The cotton ball removes impurities, the spoon is used for heating heroin to dissolve it and belts, ropes, or bands wrapped around the arm ready the vein for injection)
  • Cutting agents like mannitol, inositol, laxatives, quinine, sugar, flour, baking soda, lidocaine or procaine, and scales, large amounts of clean baggies, strainers, boxes of aluminum foil, found with heroin or in a heroin user’s possession, would indicate a heroin dealer, especially if items are found in an unusual location (bedroom, bathroom, hall closet), or if quantities of cutting agents are not consistent with personal use. Because the cutting agents are legal, they would probably not be hidden.

Potential for Abuse: Current national studies of high school students show that about 2 percent have tried heroin, and that about 73% perceive heroin use as being very harmful. (Source: Monitoring the Future 1999 Study/National Institute of Drug Abuse) Although the numbers look promising, heroin deaths among teenagers are becoming more common as heroin has made its way back onto the "rave party" and club scene. Heroin/opiate addiction affects all age groups and socio-economic classes. Heroin is incredibly accessible, and can be purchased on the street or in night-clubs. Because a heroin addict’s habit will cost from $20 to $100 per day (with each .1 gram dose costing between $15 to $30 dollars), heroin addicts will frequently engage in other activities such as prostitution, thefts or burglaries. Most importantly, deadly, infectious diseases such as AIDS or Hepatitis are known to be transmitted at an alarming rate among the intravenous (needle sharing) drug-using population.

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