Heroin: What You Need to Know
Both dangerous and deadly, heroin is becoming more and more widely used. Here's what you need to know.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin comes from a flower, the opium poppy, which grows in Mexico, Asia, and South America. The drug is highly addictive and has been illegal in the United States since 1924. It can look like a white or brown powder, or black tar. Other names for it are horse, smack, junk, and brown sugar.
How Heroin Is Used
No matter how you get it into your system, heroin gets to the brain quickly. It’s easy to become addicted. Even after using it just one or two times, it can be hard to stop yourself from using again.
You can smoke or snort it, but most users inject it into their veins to get the quickest high. That’s the most dangerous way to take it. You can overdose more easily, and you can be infected by dirty needles.
How Does It Make You Feel?
Right after taking heroin, you get a rush of good feelings and happiness. Then, for several hours, you feel as if the world has slowed down. You think slowly and may walk slowly. Some users say you feel like you're in a dream.
In an Illinois study of suburban heroin users, some described the feeling as “covered in a warm blanket, where worries are gone.”
The drug can cause nausea and vomiting. It also makes some people itch. It blocks you from getting pain messages and slows both your heart rate and breathing. If you overdose, you may stop breathing and die.
Many people use heroin to treat their anxiety, worries, and other stressors. The Illinois study found 75% of users had mental health issues like depression, ADHD, or bipolar disorder.
Why Are More People Using Heroin Today?
Use of heroin nearly doubled between 2007 and 2012.
Drug experts say this is largely linked to growing abuse of prescribed painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, which are also made from the poppy plant. People who misuse these drugs may be looking for a stronger, cheaper high. Heroin is both. But it's more dangerous. There’s no way to know how strong what you’re taking is or what it’s mixed with.
Sometimes it's laced with other drugs. Heroin overdose deaths doubled between 1999 and 2009. And a spike in overdose deaths early in 2014 is believed to be linked to heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl.
While illegal, heroin is easier to come by than some prescription painkillers in some places. To meet a growing demand, drug traffickers have increased production, and have boosted the amount of the drug smuggled into the U.S.