Heroin is a drug with a remarkable shelf-life of popularity. What we know today as heroin is synthesized from morphine, which is a derivative of the opium poppy plant. As such, heroin has been enjoyed by mankind for literally four or five millennia. In its injectable morphine-derived form, heroin has been around for a comparatively short length of time, finding its first use somewhere near the turn of the twentieth century. However, in that time heroin has proven itself to be one of the most potent, and thereby the most potentially dangerous, of all recreational drugs.
Heroin is popular for the transcendent relaxation and the intense euphoria that it produces. It does have legitimate medical uses, most notably as a way to treat debilitating pain, but it is most commonly used in the recreational sense – which also happens to be illegal in most corners of the world. In the United States, heroin is a schedule I drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This makes heroin illegal to possess without a DEA license. Possession of more than 100 grams of heroin is punishable with a minimum mandatory sentence of five years of imprisonment in a federal prison.
Unlike the fiercely-championed and relatively-mild mood enhancer marijuana, there are no lobbyists advocating for the legalization of heroin. While it remains remarkably enduring among substance abusers worldwide, it has many very obvious destructive properties. Heroin is intensely addictive, as its euphoric effects are such that its users want to seek out more immediately after the initial high fades. The highs are uniquely high, and the lows are uniquely low. Heroin can be consumed in a number of ways, such as by snorting it, smoking its vapors, “skin-popping”, or “chasing the dragon” (inhaling it in its heated form). The most immediately satisfying method is by intravenous injection, although as is the case with injected substances, this is considered an indication of the most serious dependence. Using needles to inject heroin has all kinds of severe health risks, related to improper use or the contraction of communicable diseases due to sharing.
The clearest risk presented by heroin injection is overdose. Too much heroin can stop the heart, which of course leads to death. A heroin user in the throes of their altered mind-state may not pay adequate attention to modulating their dosage, and therefore overdose. A heroin user who has overdosed may not have the appropriate medical response team nearby, and probably won’t be able to get to one on their own, so death by overdose is unfortunately not uncommon. In addition, heroin users may not always be able to trust their dealers, who often cut the purity of the drug with all kinds of substances – some of which may even be toxic.
It is probably less than reasonable to advocate the cessation of all heroin use. Heroin has been around for many, many years, and surely won’t go away on its own. However, heroin users should be aware of the many potential risks in both the drug itself and the potential lifestyle that will ensue, and all who suspect that they are beginning to develop an addiction should feel no shame in consulting the many treatment options that are available.
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