In a report issued by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, heroin is listed as the number four leading drug threat in the U.S. The good news is that, according to the report, Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin availability and distribution are limited. The bad news is that now some Nigerian criminal groups that are distributing the Southwest Asian heroin are trying to increase the drug’s distribution in some markets where Southwest Asian heroin had not previously been available.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) estimates that approximately 1.2 percent of the U.S. population admit to having used heroin at least one time in their lifetime.
Teens are especially susceptible to the notion that snorting or smoking heroin won’t get them hooked. According to statistics released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are currently 600,000 persons addicted to heroin who need treatment in the U.S.
What it is
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is produced from morphine – which itself comes from the seedpods of the Asian poppy plant, opium. Heroin is a depressant that inhibits the body’s central nervous system.
Common street names
Heroin is known by various street names, some of which include the following: big H, brown sugar, black tar, dope, H, horse, junk, mud, ska, skag and smack.
How to identify it
In its most pure form, heroin is generally a white powder. Other forms that are not as pure have colors that range from white to brown. Heroin known as “black tar” is dark brown t0 black in color, and has a sticky, tar-like feel to it.
How it’s used
The drug can be injected directly into a user’s vein, snorted, or smoked.
Effects of the drug
Users experience a rush or feel a sense of euphoria after injecting heroin. Subsequently, they may have dry mouth, begin to nod in and out (called the “nods”), experience a heaviness and rubbery feeling in the arms and legs. Dulled emotions and diminished mental capacity also become noticeable.
Heroin’s effects last for 3 to 4 hours following consumption of the drug.
Why heroin is bad for you
Heroin has numerous negative short- and long-term effects. Short-term effects include the potential for fatal overdose and a high risk of HIV/AIDS infections.
Long-term risks include:
• Collapsed veins
• Infection of the lining of the heart and heart valves
• Liver disease
• Pulmonary complications – which also includes several types of pneumonia
Other risks include users who are or may become pregnant. The result of using the drug while pregnant is potentially low birth weight, which can contribute to other risks during the child’s development.
Purity of the drug is also a high risk, with numerous additives on the street that render the drug unable to dissolve and thus clogging the blood vessels leading to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys or brain. This may result in the infection of or death of small patches of cells in the body’s vital organs.
The drug is highly addicting and is a serious drug threat in the U.S. Recent reports of a shift from injecting the drug to smoking or snorting – due to increased purity and the mistaken belief that these methods won’t lead to addiction – only compound the addiction potential to the user population.
After regular use, tolerance to heroin develops. As a result, the user takes more of the drug in order to achieve the same level of intensity previously available with lesser amounts. Over time, this can lead to physical addiction.
Withdrawal may be difficult and may begin in just a few hours after the last drug use. Symptoms include:
• Cold flashes, goosebumps
• Jerking and kicking movements
• Muscle and bone pain
Symptoms peak at between 48 to 72 hours following last use. These symptoms generally subside in about a week. The risk of fatality is high among heavily dependent users who withdraw suddenly and are also in poor health.