- Classification: Narcotic
- CSA Schedule: Schedule I
- Trade or Other Names: Diacetylmorphine, horse, smack
- Medical Uses: None in the United States, analgesic, antitussive
- Physical Dependence: High for nonmedical use, low for medical patients in pain
- Psychological Dependence: High
- Tolerance: Yes
- Duration (hours): 3–6
- Usual Method: Oral, smoked, injected
- Possible Effects: Euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils, nausea
- Effects of Overdose: Slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, possible death
- Withdrawal Syndrome: Watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, loss of appetite, irritability, tremors, panic, cramps, nausea, chills, and sweating
Whenever one thinks about drugs that cause addiction and have a high potential for abuse, heroin is at the top of the list. Heroin is a synthetic drug, produced from the morphine contained in the sap of the opium poppy. The abuse of this particular controlled substance has been of great concern for many years, all over the world.
Heroin is typically used as a recreational drug for its euphoric effects, and it is typically administered intravenously. However, it can also be smoked, snorted or inhaled. The onset of its effects are usually rapid and lasts for a period of 3 to 6 hours. Common side effects include respiratory depression (decreased breathing) abscesses, infected heart valves, blood borne infections, constipation, and pneumonia.
Origin of Heroin Use
Heroin is synthesized from morphine in a relatively simple process. The first synthesis of heroin reported in the literature was in 1875 by two English chemists, G.H. Beckett and C.P. Alder Wright. In 1898 in Eberfield, Germany, the Farbenfarbriken vorm Friedrich Bayer and Company produced the drug commercially. An employee of the company, H. Dresser, named the morphine product “Heroin.” There is no definitive documentation as to where the name “heroin” originated. However, it probably had its origin in the “heroic remedies” class of drugs of the day. Heroin was used in place of codeine and morphine for patients suffering from lung diseases such as tuberculosis. Additionally, the Bayer Company advertised heroin as a cure for morphine addiction. The analgesic properties of the drug were very effective. However, the addictive properties were quite devastating.
In 1924, Congress amended the Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act to prohibit the importation of opium for the manufacture of heroin. However, stockpiles were still available and could be legally prescribed by physicians. The 1925 International Opium Convention imposed drug controls that began to limit the supply of heroin from Europe. Shortly thereafter, the clandestine manufacture of heroin was reported in China. The supplies of opium in the Far East provided a ready source of morphine—the starting material for the synthesis. The medical use of heroin in the U.S. was not banned until July 19, 1956 with the passage of Public Law 728, which required all inventories to be surrendered to the federal government by November 19, 1956. In the past 50 or so years, the source countries for opium used in clandestine heroin production have increased dramatically. Political and economic instability in many areas of the world accounts for much of the increased production of heroin. The opium that is used to produce the heroin that enters the U.S. today has four principal sources. Geographically all of these regions are characterized by a temperate climate with appropriate rainfall and proper soil conditions. However, there are differences in the quality of opium, the morphine content, and the number of harvests from each of these areas. Labor costs are minimal and the profit margins are extremely high for those in the upper echelons of heroin distribution networks.
But, how did heroin get its worldwide recognition as an illicit substance? Simple, heroin production process is a relatively easy one. As we mentioned before, this substance is synthesized from morphine. If a drug substance is easily synthesized, it will find its way to the street’s black market easily. This easy access to the street’s black market gives the heroin the inherent potential of being one of the most overexploited and popular drugs.
It is very important to mention that the easy production process is not the only factor that contributes to its worldwide recognition. Probably, the main problem with this drug is that its users have a very high potential for developing a physical and psychological dependence after only using this drug once.
How Heroin is Consumed
Heroin is typically administered intravenously, a method that has a ten-second onset, although some users inject it just under the skin (“skin-popping”), a method that has a delayed onset of five to eight minutes. To be prepared for injection, powdered heroin is placed in a “cooker”—usually a spoon or bottle cap. A small amount of water is added, and the mixture is heated with a match or lighter until the heroin is dissolved. The mixture is drawn up into a hypodermic needle and inserted into a vein that has been distended by being tied with a tourniquet (or under the skin). The intravenous heroin user might bring blood back into the hypodermic, where it can mix with the heroin, a process known as “booting.” Heroin can also be sniffed like cocaine and even smoked. When smoked (“chasing the dragon”), heroin is heated and the fumes are inhaled, usually through a small tube; the effects peak in ten to fifteen minutes.
Effects of Heroin Use
Short Term Use Effects:
- Diminished sexual impulses
- Breathing problems
- Impaired judgement
- Relief of pain
- Constricted pupils
- Warm flushing of the skin
Long-Term Use Effects:
- Infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis
- Bacterial infections
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cold sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Respiratory (breathing) illnesses
- Muscular weakness that may evolve to partial paralysis
- Reduced sexual potency and long-term impotence in men
- Menstrual disturbance in women
- Impaired immune system
- Lowered intellectual performance