What is heroin?
Pure heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a white powder with a bitter taste abused for its euphoric effects. Heroin, a highly addictive drug, is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum) and is roughly 2 to 3 times more potent than morphine. It is usually injected, smoked or snorted up the nose. It exhibits euphoric (“rush”), anti-anxiety and pain-relieving properties.
- Most illicit heroin is sold as a white or brownish powder and is usually “cut” with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. It can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. This is the form that is injected.
- Potent opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl have been found cut into heroin accessed on the streets, and can be deadly to the unsuspecting user.
- Another form known as “black tar” may be sticky, like roofing tar, or hard, like coal. Its color may vary from dark brown to black. This form is usually smoked or snorted.
- Because abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at often risk of overdose or death.
- In the U.S., opium is rarely grown and cultivated, but is brought in from Latin American countries. Afghanistan is the capital of opium harvesting, producing roughly 75% of the world’s heroin supply.
Common opiates available by prescription include: codeine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, tramadol, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and tapentadol. All of these agents are classified as Schedule II narcotics by the DEA.
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, carries stiff criminal penalties, and has no acceptable medical use in the U.S. In Nov. 2020, the state of Oregon voted in Measure 110 to decriminalize use of all drugs, including heroin. The law does not legalize the drugs – it means that the state will remove criminal penalties and prison time for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, and instead involves a $100 fine or a “completed health assessment” at an addiction recovery center, according to Vox. The sale of drugs such as heroin or cocaine will still be illegal.
Heroin was first synthesized legally from morphine (which came from opium) in the late 1800s. The Bayer Company of Germany was the first to introduce heroin in the U.S. However, by the early 1900s addiction and abuse were widespread, and by 1924 federal law made all heroin use illegal in the U.S.
Heroin is most often injected intravenously (IV), however, it may also be:
- vaporized (“smoked”)
- sniffed (“snorted”)
- used as a suppository
- orally ingested.