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Facts About Heroin

As part of our nation’s opioid epidemic, heroin use and heroin overdoses have increased dramatically in recent years. From 2010 to 2017, there has been a five-fold increase in heroin-related overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, more than 15,000 people died of a heroin-related overdose, and nearly 500,000 people reported using heroin in the past year.

Drug education plays a key role in combatting substance abuse, including the abuse of heroin and prescription opioid drugs.

At Health Edco, we specialize in creating drug education resources, displays, and activities that highlight the negative consequences of drug abuse. Many of our drug education products examine a full range of common substances of abuse, including hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants, and more. Among our newest drug education resources are displays that focus on the hazards of abusing opioids, including prescription opioids and heroin.

Read below to learn more about the destructive and potentially lethal power of heroin and to discover some of our innovative drug education displays that examine heroin and the abuse of other opioid drugs.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a deadly, highly addictive, illegal drug made from morphine, a substance that comes from the opium poppy plant. It depresses the central nervous system and alters the brain. Heroin users can suffer long-term health problems that can eventually kill them, or they may die from an overdose.

Heroin belongs to a group of drugs known as opioids or narcotics. In addition to heroin, opioid drugs also include medications made directly from the opioid poppy plant as well as synthetic versions made in labs. Prescribed for pain relief, prescription opioids (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine) are generally safe when used as directed by a healthcare professional. However, misusing prescription opioids can lead to tolerance, abuse, and addiction.

Heroin and other opioid drugs are
highlighted in our Drug Identification Guide.

Heroin is an illegal drug that is not approved for any medical purpose. In many areas, heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids, which leads some people to turn from abusing prescription opioid pills to heroin. People who are addicted to prescription opioids are at increased risk for heroin use.

How Is Heroin Used?

Sold as a white or off-white powder, a dirty brown powder, or a sticky black substance, heroin is frequently mixed with other substances, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk. Users often inject heroin—into a vein, into a muscle, or under the skin. Heroin can also be smoked, sniffed, or snorted. Although the body feels the effects of heroin more quickly when it’s injected, heroin is still addictive and deadly when smoked, sniffed, or snorted.

How Does Heroin Affect the Body?

Heroin slows down the brain and central nervous system. It slows thinking, reaction time, memory, heart rate, and especially breathing, sometimes to the point of death. Users feel drowsy for several hours, their skin becomes flushed, their mouths become dry, and their hands and feet feel heavy. They may also experience nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.

Our Effects & Hazards of Opioids Folding Display explains
the facts about heroin and prescription opioid abuse.

Heroin and Pregnancy

Using heroin—or trying to quit suddenly—can cause a pregnant woman to lose her baby. Babies who survive may suffer withdrawal symptoms known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, resulting in fever, trembling, vomiting, continual crying, and seizures. Heroin use during pregnancy also increases the risk for having a baby with low birthweight and birth defects. A pregnant woman should consult her healthcare professional before starting or stopping the use of any opioid drug.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin is highly addictive. It literally changes the user’s brain and the way the user behaves. Once addicted, a heroin user’s primary purpose in life becomes finding and using drugs.

Over time, heroin users develop tolerance—they need more of the drug to achieve the same effects. And because of the way heroin interacts with the brain, they become physically dependent on the drug.

For this reason, many heroin users find quitting extremely difficult. A user who tries to quit can experience diarrhea and vomiting, insomnia, muscle and bone pain, cold flashes, and kicking movements. These symptoms can last for a week or even several months.

Heroin Overdose

An overdose of heroin can lead to coma or death. Every time a person uses heroin, he or she risks overdosing because it’s impossible to know the actual strength of the drug. Signs of a heroin overdose include slow, shallow, or stopped breathing; loss of consciousness; convulsions; low blood pressure; pinpoint pupils; blue fingernails or lips; and muscle or stomach spasms.

Immediately call 911 if you believe someone has overdosed on heroin. A drug called naloxone can used to treat an overdose of heroin or other opioid drugs.

Long-Term Health Effects of Heroin

The extreme risks connected with needle use make injection the most dangerous method of using heroin. No matter how heroin is used, however, it can damage the body, impair normal functioning, lead to addiction, and result in death. Additional complications of heroin use include:

  • Liver disease

  • Collapsed veins

  • Various types of pneumonia

  • Arthritis and similar problems

  • Infections of the heart lining and valves

  • Severe skin infections

  • HIV infection

  • Hepatitis B and C infection

Our Anatomy of an Opioid Abuser 3-D Display features 3-D models
to explain the devastating and deadly effects of opioid abuse.

Getting Help

Heroin addiction can be successfully treated. If you or someone you know is using heroin, contact a healthcare professional or a drug treatment facility. Getting treatment for heroin addiction can make the difference between life and death.

Learn More

Our engaging drug education displays, guides, and activities are the perfect teaching tools to raise awareness about the dangers of a variety of common drugs of abuse. To learn more about our educational materials that highlight heroin, opioids, and other commonly abused drugs, please visit our Drug Education Product Section.

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