Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

Heroin Holding More and More People Under Its Spell


The drug dealers in Portland, for instance, have a very sophisticated distribution network that reacts to change very quickly, according to Oxman. The heroin is easily found, and usually is sold in a "balloon" or packet, consisting of one-eighth of a gram, for $20.

That is not the only reason for all the overdoses, though, Oxman says. In local interviews of heroin users, he says many long-term, 15- to 20-year users admitted to having lived through two to six overdoses.

So "they don't believe they're at a huge risk for overdose. Indeed, their experience suggests that," Oxman tells WebMD.

What finally gets the addicts is a mix of factors. The black tar is "fairly potent stuff," but has a tremendous variability. Oxman says "it's always a guessing game as to how strong it's going to be." For some people who don't "test" the dose, the drug may prove lethally potent.

Another problem is sometimes people try to kick the habit, or perhaps get thrown in jail for a week. During that time, their tolerance level changes, but they shoot the same amount of heroin as they used to, causing an overdose.

It typically takes a person one to three hours to die from an overdose after their most recent shot. The majority of the deaths are witnessed, according to Backes, and most of the other witnesses are drug users. They may have an outstanding warrant, or they might just fear arrest. They might simply not want to get locked up in a drug-free jail. The causes of overdose are many.

"It's the variability, it's increased number of people using, and, unfortunately, in the drug war environment, in which all of our emphasis has been on law enforcement, people don't feel free to call 911 if they witness a fatal overdose," Backes tells WebMD.

So what can be done to turn the tide? Oxman says they have an active outreach program in Portland with needle exchange, and general education for active users stressing an overdose reduction message, such as "don't shoot alone; if somebody 'crashes,' call 911; use a tester dose; try to get drugs from a consistent dealer," he says.

Today on WebMD

child ignored by parents
prescription pain pills
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Teen girl huddled outside house
Man with glass of scotch
overturned shot glass
assortment of medication
Depressed and hurting