Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug. It is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates. Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.
It usually appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for the drug include “smack,” “H,” “skag,” and “junk.” Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a specific geographical area, such as “Mexican black tar.”
Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and its use is a serious problem. It is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin.”
Although purer heroin is becoming more common, most street heroin is “cut” with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Both new and experienced users risk overdosing on this drug because it is impossible for them to know the purity of the drug they are using. (Heroin sold on the street often is mixed with other substances such as sugar, starch, or quinine. An added risk results when heroin is mixed with poisons such as strychnine.) Heroin overdoses–which can result whether the drug is snorted, smoked, or injected–can cause slow and shallow breathing, convulsions, coma, and even death.
The drug is usually injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. Typically, a heroin abuser may inject up to four times a day. Intravenous injection provides the greatest intensity and most rapid onset of euphoria (7 to 8 seconds), while intramuscular injection produces a relatively slow onset of euphoria (5 to 8 minutes). When heroin is sniffed or smoked, peak effects are usually felt within 10 to 15 minutes. Although smoking and sniffing the drug do not produce a “rush” as quickly or as intensely as intravenous injection.