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What You Need to Know About Drugs: Heroin

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What It Is: Heroin (say: her-uh-win) comes from the opium poppy, a flower that grows in Asia, Mexico, and South America. Pure heroin is a white powder that tastes really bad. Some heroin is dark brown, and black tar heroin is either sticky or hard and looks like roofing tar.

Heroin belongs to a group of pain-relieving drugs called narcotics. Although certain narcotics such as codeine and morphine are legal if prescribed (given) by doctors to treat pain, such as when someone has surgery or breaks a bone, heroin is an illegal narcotic because it is has dangerous side effects and is very addictive.

Sometimes Called: horse, smack, big H, black tar, caballo (Spanish), 8-ball (heroin mixed with crack cocaine), junk, TNT
How It's Used: Heroin is usually injected or smoked. Purer forms of heroin are inhaled.
What It Does to You: Heroin gives you a burst or rush of good feelings, and users feel "high" and relaxed. This may be followed by drowsiness and feeling sick to the stomach.

Many people who are addicted to heroin inject the drug into a vein using needles. They may inject the drug several times a day. Over time, the needle marks, sometimes called tracks, can become permanent scars.

Often, heroin addicts will share needles, which can lead to infection with dangerous germs like hepatitis B or C or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Heroin is a very addictive drug and many people find it extremely difficult to stop using it — even after using heroin for just the first or second time. Heroin users constantly crave their next dose.

If heroin addicts suddenly try to stop using the drug or are unable to get another dose, they often develop withdrawal symptoms, like feelings of panic, sleeplessness, bad chills and sweats, muscle pain, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you take an overdose of heroin, it can stop your breathing and kill you.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2010
Originally reviewed by: Ryan L. Redman, MD

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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