Heroin Side Effects

Heroin is the fastest acting of all the opioids. Heroin is processed from morphine, a product of the poppy plant. In 2010, approximately 140,000 Americans over the age of 12 used heroin for the first time, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, with an average age for first-timers at 21.3 years. This statistic has not changed much since 2002. The number of people abusing heroin has increased from 214,000 in 2002 to 359,000 in 2010. Approximately 417,000 people received treatment for heroin dependence or abuse in 2010. While more people are seeking treatment for pain reliever or tranquilizer abuse rose between 2002 and 2010, the number of individuals seeking treatment for heroin dependence or addiction remained about the same.

Heroin was first synthesized from morphine in 1874. It was marketed as a non-addictive cough suppressant and substitute for morphine until 1910. Physicians could prescribe heroin until 1924 when Congress moved to ban the sale, import or manufacturing of heroin in the United States.

This drug, like all medicine, has the potential to cause side effects. Many people experience no, or minor, side effects from taking this medication. Most side effects are not serious and disappear after a few days. A few side effects are serious and require the attention of a medical professional.

Potential for abuse, physical dependence or addiction are possible side effects from taking this drug. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, classifies substances according to the potential for abuse. The DEA has classified this drug as a Schedule II narcotic, which means it carries a high potential for abuse and mental or physical dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 23 percent of people who use heroin become dependent upon it.

Physical dependence means the individual will suffer withdrawal symptoms after the level of opioid drops in his system, because either he has stopped taking opioids or he has taken a medication to reduce the amount of this drug in his system rapidly.

Horoin Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred Vision
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting

Heroin manufacturers cut heroin with varying amounts of other substances, such as sugar, starch or other ingredients. Because heroin users are uncertain of the potency or contents in each dose, users are at increased risk for side effects or overdose. Heroin may contain additives that do not dissolve readily and potentially clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, brain, liver or kidneys.

Heroin causes short-term and long-term effects.

Short-term Heroin effects

  • "Rush"
  • Depressed respiration
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Suppression of pain
  • Spontaneous abortion

Long-term Heroin effects include:

  • Addiction
  • Infectious diseases, for example, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections
  • Abscesses
  • Infection of heart lining and valves
  • Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems

Heroin and pregnancy

A pregnant woman and her unborn child are at special risk for side effects of heroin. Heroin abuse during pregnancy and other environmental factors, such as the lack of prenatal care, can have consequences on the unborn child, including low birth weight. Babies born to mother taking methadone typically require treatment for opioid withdrawal.

The adverse reactions to heroin are typical of any opioids. These side effects usually decrease in intensity or stop altogether with continued use at proper doses. The most serious side effect is respiratory problems potentially leading to stopped breathing, circulatory depression, dangerously low blood pressure and shock. Physicians should expect side effects and treat patients accordingly. Side effects of heroin abuse:

  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • Slowed breathing
  • Dramatically lower blood pressure
  • Feeling of being flushed
  • Infections
  • Pregnancy problems

Signs of Heroin Overdose:

  • Breathing is slow and the person shows difficulty. Breathing may also be shallow.
  • Pupils may become very small. This is sometimes called "pinpoint pupils." It is a very serious sign of heroin overdose.
  • The tongue may be discolored.
  • Mouth is very dry.
  • Pulse weakens with heroin overdose, and the victim's blood pressure will drop.
  • Watch for the lips and fingernails to be tinged with blue.
  • Stomach spasms are a sign of heroin overdose, as is constipation.
  • Muscle spasms in various parts of the body.
  • Disorientation is a sign of heroin overdose. This disorientation may even heighten to delirium.
  • A victim of heroin overdose may even slip into a coma.

Side effects include respiratory depression, constricted pupils and nausea. Respiratory depression is a condition where the lungs do not adequately exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, characterized by slow or shallow breathing.

Heroin use is associated with serious health conditions, such as fatal overdose, spontaneous abortions, collapsed veins and infections of the lining of your heart and heart valves. Respiratory depression may lead to pneumonia. Sharing needles increases the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Individuals who inject drugs are at the highest risk for contracting hepatitis C; injectable drug users account for 70 to 80 percent of all new cases.

Injecting heroin for a long time can cause scarred or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses or boils and other soft tissue infections. It can also cause liver or kidney disease. Heroin depresses, or slows down, the central nervous system. This can cause the heart rate to slow, and blood pressure to drop. Respiratory functions can also be impaired. Prolonged use of heroin can lead to heart and/or lung failure.

Poor health and respiratory depression can lead to lung complications, including pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Heroin creates a condition of overall poor health, leaving the body vulnerable to illness.

Lowered immune system function can lead to liver disease or pneumonia. Immune reactions may lead to the development of arthritis or other rheumatoid problems.

Abusers typically inject heroin. Many share needles with other users. Needle sharing is a dangerous practice that increases the risk for contracting a contagious disease, such as hepatitis or HIV. Infected individuals can then spread these diseases to sexual partners or children.