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Street names: Chinese, Dragon, H, Henry, Horse, Junk, Skag, Smack.

Heroin is an opiate, the name given to drugs derived from the opium poppy. In legitimate medicine it acts as a strong painkiller, but almost all the heroin that finds its way on to the streets is illegally imported.

At first heroin may make the user feel sick or vomit, but these side-effects soon pass. Euphoria and a relaxed detachment are the pleasurable feelings the drug produces.

It is highly addictive, whether it is sniffed, smoked or injected. The idea that smoking or sniffing heroin is less likely to cause addiction than injecting is drug dealers' propaganda.

How it is used

  1. Snorted. It is sniffed up the nose.
  2. Inhaled. This is called 'chasing the dragon'.
  3. Injected. This is not always easy, as veins collapse under such treatment.

How often

A heroin addict needs a dose every two to four hours, depending upon the amount and purity of the drug and the personal tolerance of the addict. Some addicts may need to take the drug even more often. If the addict is using a combination of cocaine and heroin - 'a snowball' - injections will need to be more frequent.

In the early stages of the illness, addicts can stop quite easily for a few days or even a few weeks. But without proper help they will always start again.

Health risks

In itself, heroin is not as damaging to the body or brain as some other drugs. These are the risks.

  1. Lifestyle. Addicts stop looking after themselves. Poor food and bad hygiene make them vulnerable to disease. Crime and prostitution to pay for drugs have obvious risks.
  2. Injecting. Shared needles carry the risks of hepatitis and AIDS. Dirty needles or adulterated heroin damages veins and arteries and can produce blood clots, abscesses, massive infections of the limbs and damage to the valves of the heart.
  3. Overdose. This is likely to occur when the addict is injecting. The heroin may be stronger than expected. Or, after a gap in using, tolerance has changed. Many addicts claim they will never inject. Most, but not all, eventually do, if they carry on using heroin long enough.
  4. Emotional damage. Addicts suffer from self-pity, despair, hopelessness and irrational resentments.