Here is a primer on how to recognize modern-day heroin and what it does to users from the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s heroin education campaign, theflyeffect.com.
WHAT IS HEROIN?
Heroin (also called boy, white, cheeva, brown sugar, H, Juan and tar) is an illegal and highly addictive drug that can be smoked, sniffed or injected directly into the bloodstream. It’s derived from morphine, and like other opiates, it’s a sedative. Pure heroin looks like fine white powder, but since most of the heroin sold on the streets is mixed with other stuff (everything from sugar and Benadryl to quinine and caffeine), it usually looks grey, brown or black.
WHAT’S HEROIN LIKE?
If it doesn’t make you sick, using heroin can give you a loose, drowsy feeling. Users say that while you’re on it, you don’t care about anything. Your breathing will get slow (often dangerously so). Your movements will get clumsy and your thoughts will get cloudy. A lot of people drift in and out of wakefulness. It’s called “getting the nods” and it leaves you pretty vulnerable.
HOW ADDICTIVE IS IT?
Super addictive. Most people who try heroin once will end up using again. But since your brain builds up a natural tolerance to heroin’s effects over time, addicts have to use more of it more often to get the same high. This can mean spending hundreds of dollars a day, just to feel normal. Beyond the emotional need, the physical addiction users experience is very real. Heroin withdrawal can be extremely painful, and usually comes with muscle and bone pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms can last for days, even weeks.
HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?
First off, overdosing is easy with heroin. There’s no way to know how pure the stuff is or if it’s cut with something weird. And it gets worse when you mix heroin with other drugs or alcohol. Too much heroin in the bloodstream can slow breathing so much, your body starves for oxygen. So, brain damage. But an overdose can also cause convulsions, coma and death. Use “dirty” or shared needles and you can get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. There are also blood clots, nasty skin abscesses, clogged blood vessels, infections of the heart and liver, lung disease and more.
CAN YOU QUIT?
Getting clean is possible, but it isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work, including visits to rehabilitation and treatment centers, drug therapies and sticking with a 12-Step program. You’ll always struggle with the addiction, even if you succeed. It’s a whole lot easier to never start.