Opioids: Heroin

Heroin is illegal to possess, distribute, and use. It is a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance. It can be injected, snorted, sniffed, or smoked. Most users report a rush of good feelings immediately after taking it.

What are the risks of using heroin?

Heroin is very addictive.

Major health problems from heroin use include death from overdose, collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, constipation and gastrointestinal cramping, pneumonia, and liver or kidney disease. People who inject the drug also risk getting infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance. This means users need more and more drug to have the same effect. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop taking heroin, they have withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goose bumps.

Pure heroin is rare. Most heroin is mixed with toxins that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs, and even death.

What are the signs of heroin use?

  • People on heroin may think and move slowly.
  • People on heroin may seem sleepy or act like they are in a dream.
  • People on heroin may have small pupils.
  • People who inject the drug will have marks on their skin where the needle went in.

What can be done to prevent heroin use?

Research suggests abuse of prescription opioids may lead to heroin use. Some people report switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids.

To prevent heroin use, take steps to prevent prescription opioid abuse.

Related information
Last Revised: March 13, 2019