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Heroin and Other Narcotic Analgesics (Pain Relievers)

Heroin use, while rare, has seen a major resurgence among teenagers. One in one hundred have tried the highly addictive narcotic, which is processed from the potent painkiller morphine, the major active component in opium. The bitter dried juice of the Asian poppy plant has been used to relieve pain for centuries. Other narcotic analgesics, like Demerol and methadone, are synthesized in the laboratory.

The heroin sold on the street today bears little resemblance to the heroin that was available in 1980, when the average bag was 4 percent pure. “Now people can buy heroin that is 40 percent pure,” says Dr. Schwartz, “or even 66 percent pure.” Yet as the quality has risen, prices have gone down, due to increased competition from a number of foreign countries.

That purer heroin could lead to more overdoses is troubling enough. But in addition, it’s so strong that users can get high by snorting or smoking the powder instead of having to inject themselves under the skin or in a vein. Because of this, the younger generation doesn’t necessarily associate heroin only with strung-out junkies shooting up in a garbage-strewn basement. To them, ingesting the pure powder may seem glamorous, like having a toot of cocaine, and not know how dangerous it really is.

Heroin activates the brain’s pleasure center, producing a transcendent high. Users describe feeling a wave of euphoria wash over them. The rush. Then the undertow gently pulls them into an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. With regular use, greater amounts are needed to achieve the same intensity, and physical dependence and addiction develop. Reducing the dosage or quitting “cold turkey” will bring on days of agonizing withdrawal symptoms. Addicts ultimately depend on heroin not to feel good but to avoid feeling bad.

Related Paraphernalia

  • Syringes
  • Burnt spoons
  • Bottle caps and other cooking implements
  • Glass pipes
  • Razor blades
  • Cotton balls
  • Tourniquets
  • Glassine envelopes
  • Resealable plastic bags
  • Eyedroppers
  • Bottles
  • Aluminum foil packets
  • Rolled-up dollar bills and straws, for snorting
  • Pipes
  • Butane lighters
  • Matches

Legal or Illegal

Some, such as codeine, are available by prescription only; heroin is illegal.

Signs of Narcotics Use

  • Needle marks, skin infections and/or abscesses
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness (“nodding off”)
  • Euphoria
  • Coughing and sniffling
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Contracted pupils
  • Pupils unresponsive to light
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow gait
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Dry skin, itching
  • Profuse sweating
  • Twitching
  • Appetite loss

Possible Long-Term Effects

  • Heart or respiratory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Tremors
  • Chronic constipation
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Appetite loss
  • Collapsed veins from repeated injections
  • Blood-borne infections, including hiv/aids and hepatitis, from contaminated needles
  • Track marks
  • Irregular menstruation
Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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