What is Heroin?

Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive opioid drug derived from morphine, which itself is extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of opium poppy plants. Heroin was first discovered in the early 1900s as it was used for the treatment of pain, however, health professionals quickly realized just how dangerous and habit-forming the substance could be.

Today, heroin is a Schedule I Controlled Substance with no approved medical use. It typically appears as a white or brown powder, or as a dark, sticky substance known as “black tar” heroin.

Heroin produces intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. However, it also carries significant risks, including addiction, overdose deaths, and a range of health complications.

In 2021, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that about 1.1 million people abused heroin and 1.0 million were addicted to it. Approximately 9,173 people that year died from an overdose involving heroin.

If you suspect someone you love is abusing heroin, it’s important to understand how to identify the drug, including what it looks like and the types of paraphernalia you may find. Knowing what your loved one is addicted to can help you be fully prepared to find them the right treatment.

To speak with an addiction specialist about your treatment options or how to help a loved one who is struggling with heroin addiction, call First Step Behavioral Health today.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Heroin produces effects similar to other opiates like morphine and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Whether it is smoked, snorted, or injected, users typically describe the high as a sudden wave of warmth, pleasure, and euphoria.

Common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Calmness
  • Heaviness in the extremities
  • Flushing of the face
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Poor reaction time
  • Itchiness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Incoherent speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nodding off (drifting back and forth between consciousness and semi-consciousness)

Heroin overdose can easily occur in anyone who uses heroin. Symptoms of a heroin overdose include:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Blue lips or nails
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting

Administer naloxone (Narcan) and call 911 immediately if you suspect an overdose.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin comes in two different forms: a solid sticky substance or a powder.

Black tar heroin is the first form of heroin which comes in the form of a dark brown or black sticky, tar-like substance. It is typically produced in Mexico and varies in purity. Its color and consistency derive from the crude processing methods used during production, often containing impurities and additives.

Powdered heroin, on the other hand, is usually a white or off-white powder that can range in purity. It’s commonly sourced from South America or Southeast Asia and is often cut with other substances such as sugar, starch, baking soda, or powdered milk to increase volume and maximize profits for dealers.

Powdered heroin can come in a variety of different colors, including light to dark brown, yellow, and pink. Brown powdered heroin is thought to have more additives. In general, the darker the heroin is in appearance, the more impure it is.

Both types of heroin are dangerous and carry the risk of overdose and addiction.

What Does Heroin Taste Like?

Heroin commonly has a strong, bitter taste because it is an acidic substance. The bitter taste is a result of the chemical processes that are used to manufacture it as well as potential additives.

When heroin is smoked, however, it may have a slightly sweet taste comparable to burnt baked goods or stale cotton candy.

It’s important to note that you should never taste heroin in an attempt to identify it. Ingesting heroin via mouth can lead to central nervous system (CNS) depression and potentially an overdose.

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Pure heroin is odorless, but pure heroin is rarely sold on the streets in the United States. Illicit heroin is diluted or refined into a powder that contains any number of additives.

Most of the time, heroin smells like vinegar. The odor can range from a very strong vinegar smell to a much weaker scent. Heroin can also smell like cat litter or cat urine.

Black tar heroin may smell particularly acidic due to the additives and impurities that are left behind after the manufacturing process.

Heroin-Related Drug Paraphernalia

Heroin users may keep a range of drug paraphernalia on their person or in their homes. Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected, and the type of paraphernalia a person has may vary based on the method in which they use the drug.

Many types of drug paraphernalia can be associated with heroin, including the following.

Paraphernalia involved with injecting heroin:

  • Needles
  • Syringes
  • Spoons with burn marks on the bottom
  • Lighter
  • Cotton
  • Tourniquet

Paraphernalia involved with smoking heroin:

  • Tin foil
  • Lighter
  • Pipe

Paraphernalia involved with snorting heroin:

  • Straws
  • Razor blade
  • Old credit cards

Get Help for Heroin Addiction Now

If you suspect someone you care about is using heroin, it’s crucial to take it seriously. Heroin is highly addictive and can lead to life-threatening overdoses. Today, heroin abuse is even riskier because it’s often mixed with fentanyl, a much stronger and deadlier opioid, and you never know exactly what you’re going to get.

At First Step Behavioral Health, we’re here to help people find a life free from heroin’s grip. Our treatment program features complete medical detox, evidence-based therapies, peer support groups, and so much more. Call us now to talk to someone about finding the right heroin rehab program for you or your loved one. We’re here to support you every step of the way.

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