Heroin is a powerful opiate that’s usually sold as a white or brown powder. Heroin belongs to a group of pain-relieving drugs called narcotics. The drug comes from the opium poppy, a flower that grows in Asia, Mexico, and South America. Pure heroin has the consistency of white powder. Some heroin is also dark brown, while black tar heroin is either sticky or hard and looks like roofing tar.


How do people take it heroin?

By smoking it

Users heat the heroin on a surface like tin foil and then inhale the smoke – this is sometimes called ‘chasing the dragon’.

By injecting it

Heroin can be dissolved in water and then injected, this is very dangerous and can lead to overdose.

By snorting it

Heroin can be snorted.


How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size and what other drugs you may have also taken.

To kick in:

When smoked, the effects of heroin usually kick in within a few minutes.

How long it lasts:

The effects can last for around an hour.

After effects:

The after effects of smoking heroin can last for several hours, so it’s important to be careful if you are using any other drugs or alcohol in that time

Extent of use

Heroin and opioid addiction is a treatable condition, but its use is increasing in recent years.

The question is often asked, is prescription opioid use a risk factor for heroin use?

  • The opioid addiction epidemic may further fuel heroin use: research from the NIDA shows that after the year 2000 nearly 80% of users reported using prescription opioids before their first heroin use.
  • This is a shift from the 1960’s: of those entering treatment for heroin addiction who began abusing opioids in the 1960s, more than 80% started with heroin.
  • Heroin is usually less expensive than prescription drugs bought on the streets, as well. Plus, the crackdown on prescription opioid prescribing may lower the availability of these drugs for illegal use, boosting the sale of heroin.
  • In 2015, a study published by Jones and colleagues found that misuse or dependence on prescription opioids was been associated with a 40-fold increased risk of dependence on or abuse of heroin.
  • However, while prescription opioid misuse is a risk factor for starting heroin use, only a small fraction of people who misuse pain relievers switch to heroin, as reported by the NIDA. According to a national survey, less than 4% of people who had misused prescription pain medicines started using heroin within 5 years.

But know that if you are using heroin, it doesn’t really matter why or how you started. What is important is that you get help, now.

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction will vary among users based upon genetic makeup, amount of drug used, frequency of use, and dependency on the drug. The most common symptoms of heroin addiction include the following:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Hostility toward others
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Lying about drug use
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Weight loss
  • Scabs or bruises as the result of picking at the skin
  • Delusions
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Decreased attention to personal hygiene
  • Possession of burned spoons, needles or syringes, missing shoelaces, glass pipes
  • Stashing drug in various places around the home, car, and work
  • Periods of hyperactivity followed by periods of exhaustion
  • Inability to fulfil responsibilities at work or school
  • Increased sleeping
  • Apathy and lack of motivation
  • Decline in occupational or academic performance
  • Slurred speech
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Dry mouth
  • Wearing long pants and shirts, even in warm weather
  • Going “on the nod” during conversations
  • Forced, pressured speech
  • Track marks on arms and legs
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Constricted pupils
  • Extreme itching


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