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(smack, skag, brown, H etc)

Heroin is a powerful and addictive substance that can be sold in the form of a powder, pill, or a liquid. It's growth in the UK is of epidemic proportions, with children as young as 10-14 years old experimenting with the drug and an estimated 3-500,000 addicts.

Heroin can be smoked with tobacco, heated on tin foil ('chasing the dragon'), snorted or injected, either just below the skin's surface ('skin popping') or directly into a vein ('mainlining'). The majority of UK addicts inject the drug.

Initially most users experience a sleepy, pleasant euphoria and total relief from stress and anxiety as the drug enters the system. This then makes way for a feeling of calm and relaxation.


Heroin is not instantly addictive, but with regular usage the body adjusts and tolerance sets in, until no pleasurable feelings are felt at all. By then the body needs the drug just to stay 'normal' and keep off the pains of withdrawal.

Feeding this addiction can cost up to £100 per day.

Some heroin addicts - often the younger ones - find themselves getting involved with crime and prostitution to feed their habit, and this sometimes ends up by them being exploited by others.

No matter what 'cool' imagery the media tries to portray about the drug, the stark truth is that heroin addiction is a hard, ugly addiction for most people and one that has wrecked many, many lives - although it is important to note that not all heroin addicts fit the media stereotype of the smacked up loser bumbling around in the gutter.

Some manage to live relatively normal lives with their addiction, although this can be dependent on securing access to a clean supply.


Side effects: Heroin can turn some people into mumbling, introspective bores, unable to get a grip on what's going on around them. Female users may have interrupted periods. Heroin suppresses the appetite and dehydrates the body and this can lead to users not eating properly and their health subsequently suffering.

Someone withdrawing from an opiate habit (clucking, or going cold turkey) is going to have a really grim time. Hot and cold sweats, nausea, diarrhoea and confusion are accompanied by an intense craving to take more of the drug to make them well again.

Heroin withdrawal is not physically dangerous, but will almost certainly be very unpleasant.

Health risks: Most of the dangers of heroin use come from using shared or dirty needles which can considerably increase your chances of contracting diseases like HIV (see HIV: preventing infection), hepatitis, septicaemia, gangrene and pneumonia as well as developing body sores and ulcers.

Overdosing can lead to death. There have also been many deaths from people buying street heroin that is either too pure or cut with dangerous substances.

Safety: Always use new sterile needles. Sharing any drug injecting equipment (works) can easily lead to HIV and other diseases carried in the blood (such as hepatitis B and C) being passed on. Works are not just the needle and syringe but include spoons, mixing dishes, filters, water and citric acid. As a last resort, works can be shared with careful preparation - see our safer drug use guide. Always dispose of the needles safely.

Detection periods: Heroin can be detected in the urine up to 1-2 days after use at common levels, 2 days for methadone.

The Law: Heroin is categorised as Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act. A charge of possession of a drug with intent to supply can be brought by the police. This includes giving a substance away for free, and can be for any amount of Heroin that the court feels is too unreasonably large to be for personal use only.

Note: As from December 2002, Heroin is to be made available on the NHS to all those with a clinical need for it (BBC 3rd Dec 2002)

More info:
National Alliance Of Methadone Advocates (US)
Addiction Treatment Forum
'Make Heroin Legal' (Guardian article)
Tooting drugs/chasing the dragon info

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Special note:
This site is all about harm reduction. We realise that some people will take drugs no matter what advice they are given, so we have reproduced this guide for information purposes only. It is not medical advice. If you are being coerced into taking drugs, or are in any doubt about taking a substance, our advice is to always refuse.

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