Need information? Help is close at hand. Check out our Heroin info below for an in-depth look at this drug.
Commercial and Street Names
Big H, black tar, brown sugar, dope, horse, junk, mud, skag, smack.
The DEA has a long list of street terms for heroin.
Description of Heroin
Derived from morphine, which is often obtained from the opium poppy. Originally created as a cure for opium addiction. Effective painkiller but, since highly addictive, has limited medical use. Heroin from Asia is typically a powder which can vary in colour from a white to dark brown powder due to variations in the production process. Another variety, known as black tar heroin, is often sold in chunks weighing about an ounce and has the colour and consistency of roofing tar or coal.
Actual photo of droopy eyes due to opioid use. Source: California Highway Patrol
Heroin users often have “pinned” or constricted pupils that do not respond to poor lighting. Other depressants often have similar effects.
Track marks from an infection that has spread under the skin due to needle injection.
A baggy containing black tar heroin. Source: California Highway Patrol
Typical supplies provided at a safe-injection site include (from left to right): metal vestibule (or “cooker”), alcohol swab, water pack (blue container), rubber tie, and insulin syringe (needle). Not visible is the small cotton filter that is placed in the cooker to prevent solids from being drawn into the needle.
An “8-ball” of heroin.
Heroin can be used in a variety of ways, depending on user preference and the purity of the drug. Heroin can be injected into a vein (“mainlining”), injected into a muscle, smoked in a water pipe or standard pipe, mixed in a marijuana joint or regular cigarette, inhaled as smoke through a straw, known as “chasing the dragon,” or snorted as powder via the nose. Can also be injected under the skin (“skin popping”). The process of preparing heroin for injection can be done either by (1) the traditional method of heating heroin mixed with water in a spoon over a flame (“cooking”) or by (2) dropping the heroin powder and water directly into a syringe, shaking the mixture to expedite dissolving of solids, and then applying flame from a lighter directly to the syringe (“shake and bake”).
At safe-injection sites, a typical kit supplied to the heroin user will include: (1) a tourniquet (blue band) used to raise arm veins; (2) a blue package of distilled water to dissolve the heroin; (3) a small aluminum vestibule to mix, heat and hold the mixture; (4) cotton filters to prevent impurities being drawn into the needle; (5) matches; (6) candles; and (7) an insulin syringe (needle). Currently, supplying the mood-altering drug (typically cocaine or heroin powder) is the responsibility of the drug user. Injection drug users typically use insulin syringes (needles) with packaging that is a standard orange colour which are the thinnest and most suited for surface veins. Blue and green needles are better suited for deep veins and injection into muscles.
Effects of Heroin
Same as prescription pain relievers, however, riskier because the purity and contents of dose is not known to the user. Also, heroin users often inject intravenously, which increases the risk of harm due to (1) the substance (injecting any drug increases the likelihood of dependence, greater chance of experiencing psychosis, higher likelihood of overdose), (2) the injecting behaviour (damage to skin and veins such as infections, scars, bruises, swelling, abscesses, ulcers; collapsing veins; and possible stroke if injecting into the neck), and (3) sharing of injecting equipment such as needles & syringes, spoons, filters, etc. (greater likelihood of spreading blood borne virus infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV). Long-term effects include tolerance, withdrawal and physical dependence (see Pain Killers).
Sources: DEA; NIDA InfoFacts, Heroin, April 2006
Beating Heroin (2006) Neil Beck
Heroin (1998) Humberto Fernandez
Heroin Addiction: Theory, Research, and Treatment (1995) Jerome J. Platt.
The Heroin User’s Handbook (2001) Francis Moraes
Hooked on Heroin: Drugs and Drifters (2004) Philip Lalander and Aisling O’Neill
How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z (1999) Ann Marlowe
Junky: The Definitive Text of Junk (2003) William S. Burroughs
The Little Book of Heroin (2000) Francis Moreas
The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Heroin Dependence: A revised and Updated Directory of the Internet Age (2005) Icon Health Publications
A Small Journal of Heroin Addiction (2000) Robin Marchesi
The Street Addict Role: A Theory on Heroin Addiction (1991) Richard C. Stephens
This is Heroin (2002) Robert Ashton
Printed Resources – Drug Policy and Heroin
Heroin in the Age of Crack-Cocaine (Drugs, Health, and Social Policy) (1998) James Inciardi and Lana D. Harrison
The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (2003) Alfred W. McCoy
For more information on drug policy see the Drug Policy section.
Printed Resources – History of Heroin
Heroin Century (2002) contains historical and medical information about this drug which made its first appearance as a miracle medicine over a hundred years ago. Argues that a more relaxed relationship between society and the drug would benefit both the economy and public health and safety. Tom Carnwath and Ian Smith
General Information on Heroin
Do You Know … Heroin? (2003) Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Pub. No. 2502/11-03.
Heroin: Just the Facts (December 1997) provides basic information on heroin. Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Online Resources – Impaired Driving and Heroin
Heroin – Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets (April 2004) is a detailed fact sheet on effects of morphine and heroin use, particularly on performance and driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Online Resources – Research and Heroin
Heroin: Challenge for the 21st Century (2001) is a research paper published by staff of an addiction treatment center in the United States. Susan M. Gordon, Caron Foundation.
NIDA Research Report: Heroin Abuse and Addiction (May 2005) highlights scope of heroin use in the US, effects of heroin use, medical complications, and treatment for heroin addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIH Publication 05-4165.
For additional research on heroin see the Heroin, Methadone, Other Opiates & Injection Drug Use section of the Office of Applied Studies website, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Online Resources – Trafficking and Heroin
The Growing Importance of Ukraine as a Transit Country for Heroin Trafficking (June 2002) is a report released by the National Institute of Justice in the US.
Video Resources – Movies
Note: these movies are for entertainment purposes only. Parental guidance is recommended.
Another Day in Paradise (1997)
Starring: James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Vincent Kartheiser, Natasha Gregson Wagner, James Otis
Director: Larry Clark
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorraine Bracco, Marilyn Sokol, James Madio, Patrick McGaw
Director: Scott Kalvert
Born to Win (1971)
Starring: George Segal as J, Karen Black as Pam, Robert Deniro as Danny.
Director: Ivan Passer
Broken Vessels (1998)
Starring: Todd Field, Jason London, Roxana Zal, Susan Traylor, James Hong
Directors: Scott Ziehl
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell
Director: Michael Cristofer
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin
Directors: Otto Preminger
Permanent Midnight (1998)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Maria Bello, Jay Paulson, Spencer Garrett, Owen Wilson Director: David Veloz
Starring: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Kerry Washington as Della Bea Robinson.
Requiem for a Dream (Director’s Cut) (2000)
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Conelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle
Director: Danny Boyle
Warning: images in the videos that follow are considered graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following is from “Heroin: The Anti-Drug:” and is an anti-drug educational video:
This documentary highlights the historical development of opiates as medicine and as a banned substance:
Dr. Phil working with two heroin-addicted twins:
The Price of Heroin is a story about Debbie, a heroin addict, as she tries to get help for her addiction.