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Heroin facts Block of heroin with injecting equipment. © Australian Drug Foundation, 2011

What is heroin?

Effects of heroin

Withdrawal

Further information

 

 

What is heroin?

Heroin is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between your brain and body. Heroin belongs to a group of drugs known as ‘opioids’ that are from the opium poppy.

Heroin comes in different forms including:

  • Fine white powder
  • Coarse off-white granules
  • Tiny pieces of light brown ‘rock’

Other names

Smack, gear, hammer, the dragon, H, dope, junk, harry, horse, black tar, white dynamite, homebake, china white, Chinese H, poison or Dr Harry.

How is it used?

Heroin is usually injected into a vein, but it’s also smoked (‘chasing the dragon’), and added to cigarettes and cannabis. The effects are usually felt straight away. Sometimes heroin is snorted – the effects take around 10 to 15 minutes to feel if it’s used in this way.

Effects of heroin

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It's important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Heroin affects everyone differently, based on:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the drug (varies from batch to batch)

 

The following effects may be experienced and last for 3 to 5 hours:

  • Intense pleasure and pain relief
  • Relaxation, drowsiness and clumsiness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred and slow speech 
  • Slow breathing and heart beat
  • Dry mouth 
  • Tiny pupils
  • Reduced appetite and vomiting
  • Decreased sex drive

 

Injecting heroin and sharing needles may also cause:

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis B 
  • Hepatitis C 
  • HIV/AIDS

 

If a large amount or a strong batch of heroin is consumed the following may be experienced:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Falling asleep (‘going on the nod’)
  • Wanting to urinate but finding it hard to
  • Itchiness
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Slow breathing, blue lips and finger tips
  • Passing out 
  • Death

 

Naloxone (also known as Narcan®) reverses the effects of heroin, particularly in the case of an overdose. Naloxone can be administered by authorised medical personnel such as ambulance officers. Family and friends can also administer naloxone if they join one of the trials taking place in Australia.


Coming down

In the days after heroin use, the following may be experienced:

  • Irritability
  • Depression

 

Long-term effects

Regular use of heroin may eventually cause:

  • Intense sadness
  • Irregular periods and difficulty having children (females)
  • No sex drive (males)
  • Constipation
  • Damaged heart, lungs, liver and brain
  • Vein damage and skin, heart and lung infections from injecting
  • Needing to use more to get the same effect
  • Dependence on heroin
  • Financial, work or social problems

 

Using heroin with other drugs

The effects of taking heroin with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:

  • Heroin + ice, speed or ecstasy: enormous strain on the heart and body, which can lead to stroke.
  • Heroin + alcohol, cannabis or benzodiazepines: breathing may slow and eventually stop.

 

Withdrawal

Giving up heroin after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Withdrawal symptoms usually start within 6 to 24 hours after the last dose and can last for about a week – days 1 to 3 will be the worst. These symptoms can include:

  • Cravings for heroin
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Depression and crying
  • Diarrhoea
  • Restless sleep and yawning
  • Stomach and leg cramps
  • Vomiting and no appetite
  • Goose bumps
  • Runny nose
  • Fast heart beat


Find out more about withdrawal.

Further information

Statistics

Reducing the risks

Resources

 

ADF SEARCH – Find further credible research and information on heroin.

ADIN – Find other credible websites and apps on heroin.

 

 

Last updated: 19 November 2013


 
Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more