What is Heroin? Heroin usually comes in the form of a white or brown powder. Street names for heroin include “smack,” “H,” “skag,” and “junk.” Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a specific geographical area, such as “Mexican black tar.”
Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian poppy plants. The flower’s botanical name is papaver somniferum. Heroin, the hydrochloride of diacetylmorphine, was discovered by acetylation (the process of introducing an acetyl group into a compound) of morphine.
The Bayer Company started the production of heroin in 1898 on a wide commercial scale. The first clinical results were so promising that heroin was considered a wonder drug. Heroin was more effective than codeine in respiratory diseases. But it turned out, that repeated administration of heroin results in the development of tolerance and patients become heroin-addicts quickly.
Commercially marketed as a new pain remedy, heroin became widely used in medicine in the early 1900s until it became a controlled substance in 1914 under the Harrison Narcotic Act. Heroin is a highly addictive drug and is considered the most abused and most rapidly acting opiate.
Heroin comes in various forms, but pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Most illicit heroin comes in powder form in colors ranging from white to dark brown. The colors are due to the impurities left from the manufacturing process or the presence of additives. “Black tar” is another form of heroin that resembles roofing tar or is hard like coal. Color varies from dark brown to black.
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Opium poppies are brightly-colored flowers blooming on green, stiff stems. Hidden in the petals is an egg-shaped seedpod filled with a milky sap. This sap is crude opium. As the sap oozes out through slits cut in the seed, it turns darker and thicker, forming a brownish-black gum. The gum is formed into bricks, cakes, or balls and wrapped in plastic or leaves. The opium farmer sells the bricks into the black market, where they proceeds to a refinery.
The opium is refined into morphine by mixing it with lime in boiling water. Organic wastes sink to the bottom, and a white band of morphine forms on the top. The morphine is skimmed off, filtered, and boiled down into a brown paste. It is then poured into molds and dried in the sun into a base the consistency of modeling clay. Morphine base is smokeable in a pipe or ready for further processing into heroin.
Heroin is produced by boiling morphine base with acetic anhydride, and subjecting it to various purification steps. The fourth and final step of purification involves ether and hydrochloric acid, and so is very dangerous. Violent explosions occur from time to time. The final product of this four-step purification process is a fluffy, white powder known as number four heroin.
How Heroin is Used
Heroin is usually injected, snorted or smoked.
It’s highly addictive. Heroin enters the brain rapidly but makes people think and react slowly, impairing their decision-making ability. It causes difficulty in remembering things.
Injecting the drug can create a risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis and other diseases caused by infected needles. These health problems can be passed on to sexual partners and newborns. Heroin is one of the three most frequently cited drugs in drug abuse deaths. Violence and crime are linked to its use.