There are many health risks associated with heroin use. Some of them are discussed below.
The biggest risk is death from overdose. It's impossible to judge the purity of street heroin. Many accidental overdoses have occurred when a batch of particularly pure heroin is released onto the streets, overwhelming the built-up tolerances of regular users.
Smoking or snorting, rather than injecting, reduces the chance of overdosing but does not eliminate it.
The signs of an overdose of smack can be difficult to spot, at least at first. The heroin user experiences the usual symptoms associated with taking the drug, including dry mouth, small pupils and constipation. The excess amount of the Big H in the user's system can lead to slow, shallow breathing. The person may even stop breathing entirely.
Other signs of overdose include low blood pressure and a weak pulse. Lack of oxygen can lead to the nails and the smack user's lips taking on a bluish tinge. Drowsiness occurs, and the person who has overdosed on the drug may lose consciousness and slip into a coma. If an overdose is suspected, seek medical attention immediately.
See our overdose section for more information.
Use of Needles to Inject Smack
Smack users may choose to inject the drug into a vein because it delivers the dose more efficiently than other methods. A heroin user can start to experience a "high" in a few seconds using this method. If the drug is injected into a muscle, the user will start to feel its effects in between five and eight minutes. We strongly advise you not to inject heroin, since it is inherently dangerous.
Injecting has two main safety problems: the transmission of HIV and other diseases (especially Hepatitis B & C) through sharing needles, and the dangers of injecting crap under your skin.
As a rule, never share needles. Sharing equipment just isn't worth the risk. Clean works are available free from Needle Exchanges and some pharmacies.
Adulterants and Junk Use
Adulterants are substances added to heroin to cut it. Pure heroin cannot be taken, since it can cause an overdose. To lower the quality of the drug, heroin is often cut with nutmeg, sucrose, starch, caffeine, chalk, powdered milk, flour and talcum powder. Local anesthetics, such as lidocaine and procaine, may also be used for this purpose. Other substances that have been used to cut heroin include laundry detergent, Ajax cleaning powder and poisons like strychnine.
The more benign ingredients listed here may not be immediately harmful to the smack user. When injected they can cause chronic problems such as itchy and inflamed skin and veins. The powder solution injected is also likely to contain bacteria. When the heroin is laced with a toxic substance, such as strychnine, it can cause convulsions, liver failure and death if the concentration is high enough.
Addiction to Big H
Heroin remains a highly habit forming substance. A person may start using out of curiosity, because they are looking for a way to escape from stress in their lives or as a way to deal with painful issues. They see the sense of euphoria and the relaxed state that follows as being a way to zone out and get away from the circumstances in their lives that they don't like.
One of the issues associated with using heroin is that people become physically dependent on the drug. Once the body gets used to its presence, the user must keep on ingesting the smack in order to avoid going into withdrawal symptoms. At that point, the person is no longer in control of his or her drug use and is being controlled by an addiction to it instead.
Every time the addict uses heroin, he or she is risking an overdose and other health consequences, since it's impossible to determine how pure street heroin is or what other substances it has been cut with. Not only is using the drug fraught with danger, but once the addict becomes drowsy and listless in the second stage of the experience, he or she is vulnerable to being robbed, assaulted or sexually assaulted.
See our addiction info for more detail, and visit our heroin rehab centers directory to find facilities that specialize in heroin treatment.
Risks Associated with Long Term Heroin Use
A person who manages to avoid being the victim of a crime while using smack is still at risk for a number of health issues. Chronic heroin abuse can result in scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses and other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney disease.
Using this drug regularly can also cause lung-related health issues like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Pregnant women who use smack are at a higher risk for miscarriage, as well as delivering a premature baby. Once the baby is born, the infant is at a higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Constipation caused by a combination of poor eating habits and the effects of the drug on the bowels can lead to hemorrhoids. Addicts can also suffer from malnutrition because they're never hungry. Being malnourished means the heroin user is less able to fight off viral infections and illnesses.