Heroin is a drug made from morphine, which is extracted from the opium poppy. Opium has been around for many hundreds of years and was originally used to treat pain, sleeplessness and diarrhoea.
Like many drugs made from opium (called opiates), heroin is a very strong painkiller. ‘Street’ heroin, often called 'brown', is sometimes used to come down off of stimulant drugs such as crack cocaine. It is a highly addictive substance that can be snorted, smoked and injected into veins. When a person becomes physically dependant on heroin, they need to use the drug to keep themselves from going into withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms include stomach and leg cramps, sweating, runny nose, watery eyes and diarrhoea / sickness.
The risks of using heroin can be:
- Heroin affects the respiratory system by slowing down breathing which leads to a lack of oxygen circulating around the body
- Heroin is highly addictive and people can quickly get hooked without realising it. Once you have a physical dependency, it can be difficult to stop using
- Injecting heroin and sharing injecting equipment can be very risky, as it runs the risk of the injector catching or spreading a virus, such as HIV or hepatitis C. There is also the risk that veins may be damaged and that an abscess or blood clot may develop.