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Heroin’s History & Effects

  • Heroin is one of the best known drugs of abuse.
  • When you mention heroin, most people think of a person who hasn’t bathed or combed their hair in weeks lying on a dirty mattress with a needle stuck in their arm, but this is no longer the case with more middle-class users in recent times.
  • In this article we are going to look at what heroin is, the way it is sold, the health problems, and the withdrawal problems.

What is Heroin and its History?

  • Heroin is processed from morphine which is derived from the opium poppy, the same opium poppy from which many of the legal prescription narcotics are derived.
  • Heroin was first produced from morphine in a lab in Britain in 1874.
  • It remained a scientific curiosity until it was discovered by the Bayer pharmaceutical company in Germany.
  • In 1898, Bayer began promoting heroin as a non-addictive painkiller and cough medicine for children and as a cure for morphine addiction.
  • With the same lack of concern for honesty shown by Purdue Pharma, Eli Lilly and other drug companies today, Bayer deliberately concealed that when the liver metabolized the heroin, the active ingredient remaining was morphine — a drug know to be highly addictive.
  • Until 1914, heroin was readily available.
  • This was changed by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act which was passed in 1914 to control the sale and distribution of heroin.
  • In a way similar to the approach some “pain management” doctors take today, many doctors prescribed heroin indiscriminately and this allowed many addicts to continue to use heroin.
  • It was not until 1924 that the sale, importation and manufacture of heroin was banned in the United States.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

  • When refined, commercial heroin is usually a white powder with a bitter taste.
  • Pure heroin is rarely sold on the streets.
  • Most heroin sold on the street is a powder varying in color from white to dark brown.
  • The differences in color primarily relate to the presence of additives that “cut” or dilute the purity of the heroin (as explained below).
  • Some heroin, particularly heroin from Mexico, actually looks more like tar and is called “black tar” heroin.
  • On the street, heroin is called “H,” “smack,” “skag,” and “junk.”

How Heroin Produces its Effects

Like other prescription drug narcotics, once heroin gets into the bloodstream:

  • It is carried to the brain and crosses the blood-brain barrier (a barrier that selectively determines what chemicals are allowed to reach the brain).
  • Once across the blood-brain barrier, heroin, which becomes morphine in the liver, activates the endorphin receptors to release more endorphins.
  • The increased endorphins, the body’s natural pain medicine, creates a feeling of comfort and well-being and for many — a sense of euphoria.

How Heroin is Used

The most common methods of heroin use are:

How Heroin is Sold

Heroin, like all illegal drugs, is obtained from criminals who import it from other criminals who obtain it from the following sources:

  • An estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium production occurs in Afghanistan;
  • Although Mexico and Colombia opium production accounts for less than four percent of the world’s total production, they supply most of the heroin to the United States;
  • Mexican growers and refiners supply an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. heroin market, primarily to dealers west of the Mississippi River;
  • Colombia supplies heroin to dealers in most of the remainder of the states east of the Mississippi.

heroin health effects

Like other central nervous system depressants, even short-term heroin use produces:

  • Clouding and slowing of mental functions;
  • Slowed breathing which may lead to respiratory failure.

However, long-term heroin use can produce:

  • Collapsed veins;
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves;
  • Abscesses;
  • Liver disease;
  • Pulmonary complications–including various types of pneumonia;
  • Depletion of essential nutrients, amino acids and minerals;
  • Dehydration of the body;
  • AIDS from shared needles;
  • Hepatitis C (70—80% of the new hepatitis C infections are among injection drug users.)

heroin overdose

As the body’s health is more and more impaired by heroin use, the body becomes more and more weakened. This can lead to a higher likelihood of a heroin overdose.

The symptoms of heroin overdose are:

  • Pinpoint size pupils;
  • Bluish skin;
  • Bluish fingernails;
  • Looseness of the muscles;
  • Clammy and cold skin;
  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate;
  • Coma;
  • Severe respiratory distress;
  • Seizures
  • Death.

Sometimes, heroin overdose was primarily caused by the weakened physical condition of the person getting too much heroin.

Other times, heroin overdoses are caused by someone who was used to 40% pure heroin getting 90% heroin on the street.

While using the same amount of 40% pure heroin would not cause an overdose, using the same amount of heroin that was twice as strong can lead to an overdose.

Heroin Withdrawal

Withdrawal from heroin is similar to withdrawal from other narcotics like:

  • OxyContin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Lortab
  • Lorcet

Because the use of heroin has caused the body to rely on the drug to produce endorphins, when you stop using heroin, the body is making insufficient endorphins to block the pain signals from the brain. Without endorphins, everything that you do, even breathing, would be painful.

This sudden stop of endorphin production creates what has been described as the worst flu you ever had, only ten times worse.

Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Sweating
  • Lacrimation (tearing or crying)
  • Yawning
  • Rhinorrhea (runny nose)
  • Piloerection (goosebumps)
  • Restlessness
  • Anorexia (eating disorder where people try to starve themselves)
  • Irritability
  • Dilated pupils (larger than normal pupils)
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle and bone pain

heroin treatment

  • Because of the pain and their greatly reduced health, most heroin users will more comfortably and safely withdraw from heroin at a facility like Novus Medical Detox Center.
  • Not only will their withdrawal symptoms and heroin detox be addressed in a real medical detox, they will also receive intravenous treatments to replenish the depleted nutrients, amino acids and minerals as well as get the person hydrated enough to make the withdrawal more comfortable.
  • Once withdrawn from heroin, the next step is to go into a rehabilitation program that will help the person really understand the reasons why they became addicted to heroin or other narcotics and be free from all drugs.


These narcotics are killing our children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends. They are destroying the lives of tens of thousands and adversely affecting hundreds of thousands more. People are turning to heroin as a cheaper alternative to prescribed pain medications. At Novus, we just want to help people become drug free and find a new future.


We develop an individualized medical detox program specifically for each of our patients, which means no recovery will look the same. Our delicious food, nutritional IVs and supplements, and specialized detox protocols are all designed to quicken the healing process. We understand that various addictions present a number of issues for the human body, so we create our IVs and diets to fit the needs of specific withdrawal symptoms.

Our process is all about you, which is why we have private and shared rooms available for our residents. Each room is outfitted with a TV, telephone, and access to the internet. We also provide educational classes that will show you how the drug or alcohol of your choice affects your body. We believe that to effectively fight off your withdrawal symptoms, it is important to know what you are fighting against and what to be prepared for.

To learn more about how we can help you,
call (855) 464-8550 today!

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