Also known by the name diacetylmorphine, heroin is made from morphine, an alkaloid occurring in opium. Opium is a substance derived from poppy plants. Heroin is between four and eight times more potent than morphine. First synthesized by the British in 1874, it was later introduced onto the market by the Germans two decades later.
It was at first intended to be used as a narcotic analgesic, which can act as a painkiller. Still used occasionally in the treatment of extreme pain in cancer patients, its potentially nasty side effects and overly powerful nature made it fall from favor with the medical community in a relatively short period of time after being introduced. It has not, however, fallen from favor with recreational drug users, and is one of the most popular illegal drugs available. When used as a powder, it can be taken up the nose. It can also be taken by dissolving it in water and injecting it into the veins. This method produces the strongest effects on the user.
When it is taken, the user’s respiration and heartbeat slow, and the pupils constrict. Following initial dosage, the user often feels a warm sensation flood the body, followed by a strong sleepy relaxation and a sense of contentment. The effects last from two to four hours.
With such euphoric result, it can be easy to see why those with complex or traumatic lives use the drug as a method of escapism and temporary artificial comfort. Risks include overdose which often leads to a shut-down of the respiratory system that induces coma, and ultimately death. Also, there is the danger of hepatitis and HIV which comes from the use of contaminated syringes.
Those who are addicted may have a long road ahead of them, as intense side effects occur for around four to five days after coming off the drug. Happily, help is available in the form of rehab clinics, which are now a growing area of the health care industry due to the fact that heroin use has been steadily spreading to people in all age and income brackets since the 1960s.