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Drug facts: Heroin


Heroin is a depressant drug (slows down the brain and other vital activities ) made from the opiate family (from opium plant). Opiates (e.g. codeine, morphine, fentanyl…) are strong, sleep-inducing painkillers. When well prescribed and used appropriately they manage pain well.

It starts out like a white, odorless powder which later on turns to different shades of brown or a black sticky substance and develops a vinegar smell.

It could be sniffed, smoked, swallowed or injected (in the veins, in the muscles, or under the skin)

  • ‘Heroin rush‘:  feeling pleasure and ‘high’ (euphoria) usually less than 1 minute after administration  
  • Think or act slowly (a feeling of detachment from this world, a dream-like state)               
  • Pain relief               
  • Warm flushing of the skin               
  • Dry mouth               
  • Constipation               
  • Small pupils (pin point)               
  • Drowsy appearance, slurred speech               
  • Nausea and vomiting              
  • Severe itching              
  • Heavy feeling in arm and legs

Using heroin several times a day for several weeks or more could lead to               

  • Develop tolerance (need to take more and more quantities of a drug to get the same effect)               
  • Physical dependence (experience withdrawal effects when drug use is reduced or stopped)             
  • Intense cravings: (Physiological dependence)           
  • Addiction: compulsive drug seeking attitudes even when drug is known to have negative consequences on oneself, family and friends              
  • Insomnia (inability to sleep)               
  • Liver and kidney disease               
  • Sexual dysfunction and impotence for men and irregular menstrual cycle for women             
  • Collapsed veins, abscesses, increased chances of blood borne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C  for those who inject               
  • Lung infections like pneumonia and damaged nose tissue for those who smoke               
  • Increased chances of mental disorders (like depression and suicidal thoughts)

Increased doses or even small doses for someone who is overactive to heroin will likely lead to an overdose especially if combined with other depressant drugs like alcohol and sedatives.              

  • Slowed breathing          
  • Extreme drowsiness               
  • Heavy snoring               
  • Slow heart rate and low body temperature
  • Coma             
  • Death

Overdose is treated with Naloxone

Using heroin for a long time you can develop physical dependence and you may experience some withdrawal effects as early as 4-12 hours after last use.           

  • Flu-like symptoms: runny nose, headache, sweating, sneezing             
  • Anxiety               
  • Irritability               
  • Sleeping problems , yawning               
  • Diarrhea and vomiting               
  • Mood swings               
  • Muscle ache

Behavioral and emotional support with medication like methadone  

If you or any loved one is into heroin, reach out to your health care provider for help.


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Ekwoge Hilda

Dr. Ekwoge Hilda is a trained pharmacist from Cameroon and Co-founder of HILPharma. When she is not busy creating content, she slings pills to pay the bills.

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