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Heroin is an addictive drug with a lot of serious side effects. Accidental overdoses are common and can be fatal.

If you use heroin often you can become addicted and risk developing a range of physical, psychological, legal, financial and social problems.

Find out how drug use can impact your life.

What is heroin?

Heroin is made from the opium poppy. It belongs to the family of drugs called opioids along with prescription medicines such as morphine, codeine, pethidine and methadone.

Heroin comes as a fine white powder, off-white granules or tiny brown ‘rocks’.

It is usually injected into a vein, but it can be smoked or snorted as well. It is also known as horse, hammer, H, dope, smack, junk, gear, the dragon, harry, black tar, white dynamite, homebake, china white, Chinese H, poison and Dr Harry.

Effects of heroin use

Heroin is a depressant drug which means it slows down the messages to and from your brain. One of these messages is to breathe – heroin can stop you breathing.

Heroin produces an immediate ‘rush’, which makes people who use it feel good, as well as drowsy and very relaxed. It also dulls physical and psychological pain.

People who take heroin have slurred speech, slow breathing and reduced coordination. If they take a high dose, they can have an irregular heartbeat, very slow breathing, blue lips, and cold and clammy skin.

People who use heroin regularly are more likely to get skin, heart and lung infections, loss of sex drive in men, menstrual and fertility problems for women, and risk infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C from sharing needles.

In time, users become tolerant to heroin and need larger and larger doses to get the same rush. Eventually, no dose is enough for them.

Heroin addiction

Heroin is very addictive and kicking the habit can be tough. Getting off heroin takes a long time, and might include using medicines such as methadone (a prescription opioid drug) along with counselling and support groups. Withdrawal symptoms from heroin start 6 to 24 hours after the last dose and last about a week. They include cravings for heroin, restlessness, depression, yawning, cramps, vomiting and goosebumps.

Heroin overdose

Accidental overdoses are common because users don’t know how ‘pure’ their supply is. Batches often contain other substances making them very poisonous. Overdoses also happen when too much heroin is injected into a vein, or if it’s used with alcohol and other drugs. An overdose can lead to coma and death. Heroin’s effects can be reversed with a drug called naloxone.

Find out about heroin's effect on mental health. You can find information on getting help on the Drug Help website or by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

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Last reviewed: January 2019

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Top results

Heroin - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Heroin is part of a group of drugs known as opioids which interact with opioid receptors in the brain and can elicit feelings of pain relief, to relaxation, pleasure and contentment.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Heroin Effects, Addiction, Overdose & Withdrawal | Your Room

Heroin comes with many short and long term side effects. Find out what to do in the case of addiction, overdose or withdrawal and places to get help.

Read more on NSW Health website

Naltrexone - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Naltrexone is a prescription drug. It belongs to a group of drugs known as opioid antagonists which block the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs.

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Buprenorphine - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Buprenorphine (pronounced bew-pre-nor-feen) is a prescription drug. It is taken as a replacement in the treatment of heroin and methadone dependence.

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Opioids - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Opioids include any drug that acts on opioid receptors in the brain, and any natural or synthetic drugs that are derived from or related to the opium poppy.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

What are drugs? | Australian Government Department of Health

Drugs affect the way your body and mind function; they can change how you feel, think and behave. People take drugs for different reasons and in different ways. Find out about legal and illegal drugs.

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Prescription opioids | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Pharmaceutical opioids are now responsible for far more deaths and poisoning hospitalisations in Australia than illegal opioids such as heroin.

Read more on TGA – Therapeutic Goods Administration website

Indigenous resources - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

With state governments and Aboriginal community controlled health organisations, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation has developed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational and information resources, including your community and: alcohol, ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, ice and speed, prescription drugs, synthetic drugs, tobacco, yarndi (cannabis).

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Methadone - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Methadone is a prescription drug, and is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain and elicit a range of responses within the body

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Opioid pharmacotherapy in the community

Opioids are derived from a substance produced by the opium poppy which, when dried, is known as opium. These types of drugs are very strong pain relievers.

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