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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What are inhalants?

Red lighter fluid canAlso known as: Bold (nitrites), Laughing gas (nitrous oxide), Poppers (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite), Rush (nitrites), Snappers (amyl nitrite), Whippets (fluorinated hydrocarbons)

Inhalants are chemicals found in ordinary household or workplace products that people inhale on purpose to get “high.” People often don’t realize that inhaling the fumes of these products, even just once, can be very harmful to the brain and body and can lead to death. In fact, the chemicals found in these products can change the way the brain works and cause other problems in the body.

Although different inhalants cause different effects, they generally fall into one of four categories.

Volatile solvents are liquids that become a gas at room temperature. They are found in:

  • paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement
  • some art or office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, glue, and electronic contact cleaner

Aerosols are substances under pressure that are released as a fine spray. They include:

  • spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray

Gases may be in household or commercial products, or used in the medical field to provide pain relief. They are found in:

  • butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”).

Nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles labeled as:

  • organic nitrites, such as amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds
  • amyl nitrite, used in the past by doctors to help with chest pain and sometimes used today to diagnose heart problems
  • nitrites, now banned (prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) but can still be found, sold in small bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”

How Inhalants Are Used

People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes through their nose or mouth, usually by “sniffing,” “snorting,” “bagging,” or “huffing.” It’s called different names depending on the substance and equipment used.

 

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