Heroin

Heroin is one of a group of drugs known as "opioids".  Heroin and other opioids are depressants, which slow down the activity of the central nervous system and messages being sent from the brain and the body.

Heroin can range from a fine white powder to off-white granules or pieces of brown "rock". It has a bitter taste but no smell. Heroin is most commonly injected into a vein. It is also smoked, added to marijuana and cigarettes, or snorted.

Effects of heroin

The effects of heroin may last three to five hours.  Effects may include:

  • Intense pleasure and a strong feeling of well-being
  • Confusion
  • Pain relief
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Suppressed cough reflex
  • Reduced sexual urges

Withdrawal

If a dependent person suddenly stops taking heroin, or severely cuts down the amount they use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms because their body has to readjust to functioning without the drug. Withdrawal usually occurs within a few hours after last use.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Cravings for the drug.
  • Restlessness.
  • Yawning, nausea and vomitting. 
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Stomach and leg cramps, muscle spasms.
  • Headaches and flu-like symptoms. 

These withdrawal symptoms get stronger and usually peak around two to four days after last use. They usually subside after a week. Continued craving for the drug may last for periods of months and even years.

Treatment options

A number of drug treatment options are available for heroin dependency. Treatment is more effective if tailored to suit a person's specific situation, and usually involves a combination of counselling, group therapy, medication/pharmacotherapy programs such as methadone, buprenorphine or suboxone, and supervised inpatient, outpatient or home detox.

Source of information: DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation

Heroin information page by the DrugInfo Clearinghouse

DrugInfo Clearinghouse is a service provided by the Australian Drug Foundation. It functions as a drug prevention network providing information about alcohol, other drugs, and drug prevention. Their information page about heroin details the effects of the drug and withdrawal symptoms.

http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/drug-facts/heroin

Information page about heroin by DanceSafe

DanceSafe is a US based nonprofit, harm reduction organisation promoting health and safety within the rave and nightclub community. DanceSafe's information page about heroin details the health risks involved in using.

http://www.dancesafe.org/heroin/

It may be difficult to know what to do if you are worried about someone who is using heroin, particularly if your friend has not told you about it. Helping someone who is not ready to change their behaviour is a challenge especially when the decision to get help is ultimately theirs.

If you approach the person you are concerned about, there are several things you might want to consider before doing so.

Be informed - Be aware that heroin is highly addictive.  It is a good idea to have a general knowledge of about safe injecting practices to ensure that the person is minimising associated harms (eg. blood borne viruses) with their heroin use.      

Discuss issues openly - Let the person you are concerned about know that you are open to listening to them without being judgmental. Discuss your concerns without judging the person or criticising their behaviour. 

Speak to a counsellor yourself first - Sometimes it is sensible to seek help and advice yourself if someone's drug-related behaviour is impacting on your life.  There are also a number of alternative and substitute treatments for heroin use that a specialist agency or telephone helpline can inform you about.

Reference - Reach Out! website 

DanceSafe

DanceSafe is a US based nonprofit, harm reduction organisation promoting health and safety within the rave and nightclub community.

http://www.dancesafe.org/

DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation

DrugInfo Clearinghouse is a service provided by the Australian Drug Foundation. It functions as a drug prevention network providing information about alcohol, other drugs, and drug prevention.

http://druginfo.adf.org.au/

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC)

NDARC conducts research and related activities that increases the effectiveness of Australian and international treatment and intervention responses to alcohol and other drug related harm.

http://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/

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