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Heroin

two teens Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from poppy plants. Heroin is a highly addictive drug. It is the most fast-acting and one of the most abused opiates. It usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.”

Users may call it smack, horse, brown sugar, dope, H, junk, skag, skunk, white horse, China white, or Mexican black tar.

How is Heroin Used?
Heroin can be injected, smoked, sniffed, or snorted. High purity heroin is usually snorted or smoked. All three methods of administering Heroin can lead to addiction and other severe health problems.

Most street heroin is "cut" with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Heroin may also be cut with strychnine or other poisons.

Users describe a feeling of warmth, happiness and contentment from a few minutes to several hours after use. Heroin is also used by those who are physically dependent to prevent withdrawal.
What Are the Risks Associated with Heroin Use?
One of the most significant effects of heroin use is addiction. Increased tolerance causes users to use more heroin to achieve the same effect. As higher doses of the drug are used over time, physical dependence develops. Because heroin users do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at risk of overdose or death.

Chronic injectors may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Heroin poses special problems because of the transmission of HIV and other diseases that can occur from sharing needles or other injection equipment.

Lung problems, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to these vital organs.
Heroin Use in NYC
  • In 2011, 2.7% of NYC high school students reported having used heroin one or more times in their life.
  • In 2009, the rate for heroin emergency department related visits was about 153 for every
    100,000 New Yorkers.
  • Heroin was involved in 46% of unintentional drug poisoning deaths from 2005 to 2010.
  • From 2005 to 2010, New Yorkers aged 45-54 had the highest rate of Heroin-related poisoning deaths; rates were also higher among males.

► See Related NYC Health Department Publications

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Last Updated: January 7, 2013