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The Horrors of Heroin


Heroin is a highly addictive drug. It is the most rapidly acting of all opiate drugs and also the most abused. Processed from morphine and originating from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant, heroin is usually sold as a white or brown powder or sometimes in a black sticky form known as “black tar heroin.”

Pure heroin is becoming more common but most street heroin is mixed or ‘cut’ with sugar, powdered milk or starch, though sometimes it can be cut with poisons such as strychnine. Because users will often not know whether the heroin they have bought is cut or pure, or the actual strength of the drug, they are at risk of overdose or death. Further risks include the possibility of transmitting HIV and other diseases through sharing needles with infected users.

Methods Of Usage

Heroin is usually injected, smoked, sniffed or snorted. Research has shown a shift from injecting to snorting or smoking partly because of an increase in purity but also because of mistaken belief that injecting is more addictive than other methods.

Injecting intravenously produces the quickest onset of euphoria with the greatest intensity. A slower euphoric effect is felt by injecting intramuscularly, sniffing or smoking. Although these latter methods do not provide as quick a ‘rush’ as intravenous injection they are just as addictive.

Effects Of Short Term Heroin Use

Once heroin has been injected or inhaled it crosses the barrier between the blood to the brain and is converted to morphine. It then binds to opioid receptors and creates the surge of sensation known as a “rush.” The intensity of this sensation is determined by the quantity of drug taken and how rapidly it enters the brain. The more speedily a drug enters the brain, the more addictive it becomes and as heroin is notably quick in this way, this would explain its popularity amongst addicts.

Less savoury short-term effects of heroin use include nausea and vomiting, severe itching, clouded mental functioning and spontaneous abortion. Users are often drowsy for several hours after taking heroin; cardiac functions slow along with breathing and overdose is a high risk on the streets where the purity and amount of the drug is unknown.

Long Term Effects

Addiction itself is one of the long- term effects of constant use of heroin. It makes neurochemical changes to the brain and produces tolerance and physical dependence, which influence the need to use and abuse. A true heroin addict has one purpose in life and that is to seek out drugs and use them. As physical dependence increases, withdrawal symptoms occur if the drug is abruptly stopped and these can include muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea, vomiting and cold sweats.

Other long-term effects include collapsed veins, bacterial infections and abscesses. The heart lining and valves may become infected. The chance of catching infectious diseases increases and includes HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. Arthritis can develop, as can other rheumatologic problems.

Anyone using heroin and wishing to stop should seek medical advice. It is a serious drug with severe repercussions.

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