How Is Heroin Abused?
Heroin can be injected, snorted/sniffed, or smoked—routes of administration that rapidly deliver the drug to thebrain.
How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?
Heroin enters the brain, where it is converted to morphine and binds to receptors known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas ofthe brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of respiration.
After an intravenous injection ofheroin, users report feeling a surge of euphoria (“rush”) accompanied by dry mouth, a warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities, and clouded mental functioning. Following this initialeuphoria, the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. With regular heroin use, tolerance develops, in which the user’s physiological (and psychological) response to the drugdecreases, and more heroin is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Heroin users are at high risk for addiction—it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependenton it.
What Other Adverse Effects Does Heroin Have on Health?
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users whoinject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease.Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of...