Ways that Heroin is Used

Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. It is a "downer" or depressant that affects the brain's pleasure systems and interferes with the brain's ability to perceive pain. Heroin, due to the various ways that it is processed, can have a wide range of colors, from white to dark brown in powder form, to a black tar-like substance, as in black tar heroin. The most common ways that Heroin is used are injection, snorting or inhaling the powder through the nose (also called sniffing) or smoking heroin-this method is often referred to as "chasing the dragon." Injection may be chosen because this method gives the greatest and most immediate effect for the least amount of drug. People who are addicted to heroin may inject two to four times a day. The drug is more likely to be snorted or smoked when heroin of high purity is available, or by occasional users who prefer not to inject themselves.

Injecting Heroin

Heroin is injected either into a vein ("mainlining," intravenous or IV use), into a muscle (intramuscular or IM use) or under the skin ("skin-popping" or subcutaneous use).Although smoking or snorting heroin have both become more popular means of doing heroin in recent years, there are still countless individuals who prefer to inject heroin into their bloodstream using a needle and syringe. Why do so many addicts prefer this dangerous method of using heroin? The answer is simple: no other means of heroin use causes the effects of the drug to take hold as quickly as injection. Those individuals who start taking heroin by smoking or snorting are likely to shoot heroin later on, as they become addicted - as it is the only way to achieve a "high" as their tolerance continues to grow.

An individual who is shooting heroin in his or her veins is delivering a high dosage of the drug into their bloodstream quickly and intensely. Many people are unable to handle this intense experience, and may suffer a heroin overdose. IV heroin use also makes "bad doses" of the drug even more dangerous, as the individual will be ill-prepared to recover from too-strong versions of the drug, or heroin cut using toxic materials. In recent years, people shooting up heroin have been among the most at-risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Why? When individuals share used needles, they are taking in the bodily fluids of those who used the needle previously. If that individual has HIV, then the chance of the disease spreading is great. This has also been the case with Hepatitis. The B and C strands of hepatitis have both seen growth in recent years, primarily as a result of heroin drug addicts spreading the disease via used needles. To help combat these problems, many social services departments in major cities have begun offering needle exchange programs. These controversial efforts give the heroin addict a place where they can obtain clean needles for free. In addition to the needles themselves, the individual also receives important information about the dangers of heroin addiction and support in obtaining drug treatment.

Snorting Heroin

Snorting or inhaling the powder form of heroin through the nose is also called "sniffing". There is a rising segment of young users who sniff, snort, and smoke heroin to avoid the dangers of using needles. Although the risks of contracting incurable, fatal diseases like HIV / AIDS and hepatitis from sharing needles, heroin's addictive quality poses an extremely potent danger. The drug is often used in combination with other illicit drugs, especially cocaine / crack, benzodiazepines (Valium), and alcohol. Some users snort alternate lines of heroin and cocaine, known as "crisscrossing," or inject the two drugs as a "speedball." There are also reports of users sniffing liquefied heroin intranasal by using a nasal spray bottle, a practice known as "shabanging."Young people may even be under the impression that smoking or snorting heroin is a safe method. But, unfortunately, any method of heroin use can result in addiction,overdoses and in the worst scenario, death.

Chasing the Dragon

Inhaling or smoking heroin is often referred to as "chasing the dragon," and involves gently heating the heroin on aluminum foil and inhaling the smoke and vapors. The 'chasing' occurs as the user methodically keeps the liquid moving in order to keep the heroin from congealing into a single unmanageable mass. "Chasing the dragon" as a way of using heroin is accomplished with various vaporizing apparatus, including traditional opium pipes. A makeshift method involves putting the substance in an empty teapot, heating it over a stove, and inhaling through the nozzle via the nose or mouth. This way of using heroin may pose a less immediate danger to the user than injecting heroin, due to eliminating the risk of transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases that often occur as a result of needle sharing. This method of using heroin can also eliminate the stress that injecting heroin puts on the user's veins. It is never harmless to expose the lungs to any kind of smoke and inhaling heroin itself may lead to toxic leukoencephalopathy, which is a disease that is linked to the ingestion of toxic substances.

Another more metaphorical use of the term "chasing the dragon" refers to the elusive pursuit of the ultimate high in the usage of some particular drug. The term alludes to the feeling that the next ingested dosage of the drug will result in a nirvana that seems and feels imminent and conclusive, yet upon consumption never quite yields the promised experience-leading to the desire for the next dose that still promises the same-thus chasing the dragon but never catching it. Medically speaking, this sensation is a common aspect of drug addiction in which the psychological and physical drug tolerance causes a diminishing return in the user's enjoyment of the drug. Here, the "dragon" represents the user's best euphoric experiences with the drug (usually due to novelty) but with the positive effects diminishing (and often being replaced with negative effects) over time with each consecutive experience, causing the user to fruitlessly "chase" harder and use more of the drug in order to try and recapture the initial euphoria.
There is one common factor in all of the different ways of using heroin-addiction. The best way to beat a heroin addiction is through long term residential drug treatment. A heroin addict will never "catch the dragon" as in chasing the euphoria that they experienced when first using the drug, but they could die trying.



  • Heroin addiction remains the one with the most serious ramifications.

  • More than 87% of the 12th grade population reported that they think heroin is too risky of a drug to try.

  • In 2003, 119,000 Americans admitted to using heroin at least once within a month prior to the interview.

  • Heroin uses affects the body in drastic ways.

  • A severe effect of heroin use may be going into a coma.

  • In 2003, more 57% of past year heroin users were classified with dependence on or abuse of heroin.

  • Major withdrawal symptoms of heroin use peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose.

  • In 2002, studies show 53% of past year users of heroin had a dependence on the drug.

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