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Drug Information for Heroin

Get the Facts

Heroin affects your brain. Heroin enters the brain quickly. It slows down the way you think, slows down reaction time, and slows down memory. This affects the way you act and make decisions.

Heroin affects your body. Heroin poses special problems for those who inject it because of the risks of HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other diseases that can occur from sharing needles. These health problems can be passed on to sexual partners and newborns.

Heroin is super-addictive. Heroin is highly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly. It particularly affects those regions of the brain responsible for producing physical dependence.

Heroin is not what it may seem. Despite the glamorization of "heroin chic" in films, fashion, and music, heroin use can have tragic consequences that extend far beyond its users. Fetal effects, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, violence, and crime are all linked to its use.

Heroin can kill you. Heroin is one of the top three frequently reported drugs by medical examiners in drug abuse deaths.

Before You Risk It

Know the law. Heroin is an illegal Schedule I drug, meaning that it is in the group of the most highly addictive drugs.

Get the facts. In the 1990's, hospital emergency department episodes involving heroin nearly quadrupled among youths ages 12-17.

Stay informed. The untimely deaths of several popular musicians and other celebrities may have influenced many young people to stay away from heroin use, but to others, the dangers are still not clear. The average age of first use was 21.3 in 1998.

Know the risks. Because the strength of heroin varies and its impact is more unpredictable when used with alcohol or other drugs, the user never knows what might happen with the next dose.

Look around you. The vast majority of teens are not using heroin. According to a 1999 national study, only 2 percent report ever having tried it.

Know the Signs

How can you tell if a friend is using heroin? Signs and symptoms of heroin use are:
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Slowed down respiration
  • Constricted pupils
  • Nausea
Signs of a heroin overdose include:
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
What can you do to help a friend who is using heroin?

Be a real friend. You might even save a life. Encourage your friend to stop or seek professional help. For information and referrals, call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 800-729-6686.

Questions & Answers

Question: Isn't heroin a less dangerous drug if you snort or smoke it instead of injecting it?
Answer: No. Heroin is heroin. There is no safe way of ingesting it. You can still die from an overdose or become addicted by snorting or smoking it.

Question: Can withdrawal from heroin kill you?
Answer: Although it is seldom fatal, withdrawal from heroin produces drug cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms that usually last about a week, but may last for many months.

Question: Will heroin use alter my brain?
Answer: Yes. Heroin enters the neurons or cells of the brain and changes the speed of the chemicals in the brain. It not only affects your brain physically, but also affects the way you think.