What is Heroin?
In 1874, a chemist named C.R. Alder Wright first synthesized heroin in England. Years later, an employee of the pharmaceutical company that would later become Bayer synthesized it again.
Heroin, also called diamorphine, is made by drying the milk of certain types of poppy plants. It was intended to be a non-addictive substitute for morphine, which occurs naturally in the seeds of the opium poppy plant. In fact, it was marketed as a painkiller and cough suppressant. Shortly after it came on the market, it was discovered that the body rapidly metabolizes the drug back into morphine.
In the present day, heroin falls in the same category as strong painkillers that are only available with a prescription, like codeine and morphine. It is now classified as a Schedule I drug and has no recognized therapeutic use. The sale, importation and manufacturing of the drug have been forbidden in the United States since 1924.
The drug is a depressant that provides the user with euphoric feelings and can act as an analgesic on their central nervous system. It is very easy for individuals to become addicted to heroin due to the potency of the drug and its ability to rapidly boost the mood and cause a sense of euphoria. Heroin has become the most widely abused opiate in the world.
What Does Heroin Look Like?
In its purest form, heroin is typically a white powder that looks very similar to cocaine. However, heroin found for sale on the street can vary between white, yellow, brown or gray. The drug is often “cut” with other substances like sugar, powdered milk, or baby laxative.
DrugAbuse.gov warns that, due to the fact that users have no idea how concentrated the drug is, there is a high risk of overdose. Heroin that is purchased off the street is often mixed with other toxins that can also cause permanent damage to internal organs, clogging of the blood vessels and more. The risk of overdose is particularly high when injecting heroin as this allows for large quantities to be introduced to the bloodstream instantly; however, any method of consuming the drug can result in an overdose.
Another form of the drug recently appearing in the U.S. from Mexico that is black in color, similar in appearance to roofing tar is commonly known as “black tar” heroin or “Mexican mud”
How Heroin is Used?
Heroin is used in a number of ways by users to achieve a “high.” The most popular methods that users choose to take the drug are to snort, inject, or smoke it. Users have their preferences for how they like to take heroin, but every method is particularly efficient about achieving the effects of the drug very quickly.
The powdered drug is dissolved by placing the heroin in a spoon and mixed with water and heat applied to the bottom of the spoon until completely dissolved. Users draw this mixture into a syringe and inject the heroin into their veins, into a muscle or just underneath the skin. In users that inject the substance into their bodies, the injection sites can vary greatly and usually depends on the condition of the veins or the user’s desire for secrecy.
When the drug is injected into the muscle, the onset of the euphoria takes from 5 to 8 minutes. When the drug is injected into the blood vessels, the high is the most pronounced and has the most rapid onset, happening within 7 to 8 seconds.
If one is looking for signs of injection in a user, they can be fooled into thinking they are not using because there are no obvious “tracks” or scars. Scars are fairly easy to avoid, particularly early in the addiction.
By changing the sites, veins and skin can heal before being used again. Heroin can be injected anywhere on the body that there are veins. Users have injected heroin into veins in feet, behind knees, between toes, groin, neck and more.
Other users smoke or sniff the drug. It is thought by some that these methods will stave off addiction, allowing the user to get high once in a while without becoming addicted.
Heroin Usage in the United States
Data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse suggests that more than three million Americans have used heroin at least once in their lifetime. The Monitoring the Future Survey from the University of Michigan states that almost two percent of the nation’s high school students have used the drug at least one time in their lives. More than 200,000 heroin users go through correctional facilities every year.