What is heroin?

heroin powder

Also known as: Black tar, Brown sugar, China white, H, Horse, Junk, Ska, Skunk, Smack, and White Horse.

Heroin is a very addictive drug made from morphine, a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance taken from the resin of the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Heroin’s color and look depend on how it is made and what else it may be mixed with. It can be white or brown powder, or a black, sticky substance called “black tar heroin.”

Heroin is part of a class of drugs called opioids. Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), and hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin).

Heroin use and overdose deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade. This increase is related to the growing number of people misusing prescription opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Some people who become addicted to those drugs switch to heroin because it produces similar effects but is cheaper and easier to get.

In fact, most people who use heroin report they first misused prescription opioids, but it is a small percentage of people who switch to heroin. The numbers of people misusing prescription drugs is so high, that even a small percentage translates to hundreds of thousands of heroin users.1 Even so, some research suggests about one-third of heroin users in treatment simply started with heroin. Maybe they were mistakenly told that only one use cannot lead to addiction. Both heroin and opioid pill use can lead to addiction and overdose.

How Heroin is Used

Heroin is mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be sniffed, smoked, or snorted. People who use heroin sometimes combine it with other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine (a “speedball”), which can be particularly dangerous and raise the risk of overdose.

To learn more about the different types of opioids, visit our Prescription Opioids Drug Facts page.

1 Compton WM, Jones CM, Baldwin GT. Relationship between nonmedical prescription-opioid use and heroin use. The New England Journal of Medicine 2016;374:154-163.

 

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Parenting programs lead to healthier behaviors

A study conducted among 517 youth in the rural areas of the southeastern United States demonstrates the effectiveness of a parenting enhancement program in both preventing drug use and obesity, two potentially life-threatening conditions for which people living in disadvantaged communities are at an elevated risk.

Previous research identified protective caregiving practices in rural African American families that promoted healthy social and emotional development. These practices, which involve positive parent-child relationships, routinized and predictable home environments, consistent discipline, and non-harsh parenting practices, nurtured the development of self-regulation and achievement goals, and inhibited drug use and other risk behaviors within these communities. In a new study, parents and their 11-year-old children were assigned randomly to a control program or to the Strong African American Families (SAAF) prevention program, which employed these practices. SAAF families participated in separate parent, youth, and family skills-building curriculums and had the opportunity to practice the techniques they were learning over a series of training sessions. Data looking at neighborhood socioeconomic status and supportive parenting were collected when the youth were 11 and 16 years of age. When the youth were aged 19-21 and 25, drug use and Body Mass Index (BMI) were measured.

Researchers found that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood was associated with drug use among young men in the control group, but not in the SAAF group. In young women, BMI was higher in the control group than in the group assigned to the SAAF program. The findings suggest the importance of parenting enhancement programs as a tool for healthier outcomes in youth. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The NIDA Blog Team

A lot of things can increase the risk that a teen will have a problem with drugs. These risk factors include difficulties in school, problems making friends, even the person’s biology.

Another risk factor is living with a parent who uses drugs. A recent study offers a reminder that avoiding drug use is an important choice for the entire family.

A connection…
The study (co-authored by Dr. Wilson Compton here at NIDA) found that if a parent uses marijuana (weed), that can increase the risk that their kids living in the same household will use drugs.

Specifically, teens and young adults who lived with a parent who used marijuana were more likely to use marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, and to misuse opioids, than were those living in households where a parent did not use marijuana.

The connection existed even if the parent(s) didn’t use marijuana often, and even if they had only used it in the past.

…not a cause
When thinking about scientific studies, it’s important to understand what their findings don’t mean. In this case, the findings don’t mean that if a parent uses marijuana, their teen or young adult will definitely use marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, or will definitely misuse opioids.

Think of all those risk factors. Parents’ drug use is another one of them, and none of the factors causes teens to use drugs—they just increase the risk that they will.

The study does note that screening family members for substance use and counseling parents on the risks of using drugs may be helpful in preventing the cycle of drug use in families.

We also shouldn’t interpret the study findings as blaming parents if their kids use drugs. Parents can set an example, and while the study suggests that the example is important, choosing to use drugs the first time is just that: a choice.

Your call
For teens, it’s worth thinking about that choice, because, for some people, choosing to use drugs can lead to addiction, where they can’t stop using drugs even though it’s damaging their life.

As we said, this study is a reminder that everybody has a role in reducing the risk that someone in their household will use drugs. But it’s also a reminder that you have the power to make your own decisions about your health. As you become an adult, you’ll have to choose your own path.

medical marijuana

The marijuana plant has chemicals that can help with some health problems. More states are making it legal to use the plant as medicine for certain illnesses. But there isn’t enough research to show that the whole plant works to treat or cure these conditions. Also, the U.S. government still doesn’t think of marijuana as medicine, so it’s still illegal at the national level.

A few medicines have been made as pills and oils. These medicines have chemicals that are like the ones in the marijuana plant, but are not the same type that people usually smoke. They can:

  • treat nausea if you have cancer
  • make you hungry if you have AIDS and don’t feel like eating

Smoking medical marijuana can also hurt your lungs. These and other effects on the brain and body could make marijuana medicine more harmful than helpful.

Another problem with marijuana as a medicine is that the ingredients aren’t exactly the same from plant to plant. There’s no way to know what you’re getting.

Scientists are trying to find ways to make safe medicines from marijuana.

Teenagers

Guided by the principle that community engagement is critical for addressing complex public health issues, the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington has been testing Communities That Care (CTC), a community-mobilizing initiative for preventing those risky behaviors.

Substance abuse among adolescents negatively impacts their still-developing brains, and can lead to risky behavior, injury and even death.1 Guided by the principle that community engagement is critical for addressing complex public health issues, the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington has been testing Communities That Care (CTC), a community-mobilizing initiative for preventing those risky behaviors.

CTC is a data-driven framework that uses local survey and archival data to help communities identify and prioritize their needs, and then allows them to choose and implement evidence-based programs that have been shown to be effective in addressing those needs. Communities choose from a “menu” of tested and effective programs for youth, their families, schools and communities.

The CTC initiative consists of five core components that will train communities how to conduct community readiness assessments; engage stakeholders by forming coalitions to oversee CTC activities; use epidemiologic data to develop community profiles of risk and protective factors; choose evidence-based programs and/or policies to implement that will reduce the community’s identified risk factors and bolster protective factors; and improve implementation based on the evaluation data.2;3

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