Drugs A to Z

Heroin: Factsheet

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Year: Year 9–10, Year 11–12
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What is heroin?

Heroin is one of a group of drugs known as opiates, so-called because they are natural products of the opium poppy — these also include opium, morphine, and codeine. 

Heroin is also known as hammer, gear, or smack.
 

In Australia, heroin can be a fine powder, granules or rocks, and is normally white or off-white in colour although it is sometimes brown. It is normally injected, but is also snorted, smoked, or heated and the vapours inhaled (chasing the dragon). It can be sold ‘cut’ (mixed) with a range of substances that can also be harmful. This makes it hard for the user to know the purity of what’s being taken.  

How many young people have tried it?

According to the 2014 Australian secondary schools' survey, 1 in 90 students (1.1%) aged 12-17 used opiates (e.g., heroin) in the last year.

What are the effects?

Heroin produces a ‘rush’ within seconds of injecting or smoking it, or up to about 5 minutes if it’s snorted. The effects of heroin can last for approximately 3–5 hours.

Effects of heroin vary, but may include: 

Immediate

  • Small (‘pinned’) pupils
  • Drowsiness and sedation (a state of calm or sleep)
  • Pain relief
  • Feeling of euphoria (a ‘high’)
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Overdose
  • Coma 

Long-term

  • Dependence (addiction)
  • Dental problems
  • Constipation
  • If injected there is an increased risk of infections like Hepatitis C and HIV
  • Infertility
  • Social problems, such as falling-out with friends
  • Financial issues such as debt and poverty 

Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use and National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.  See detailed attachment for a list of sources for this information. 

  • Credit to 2and2 for the 'Avoiding Drugs?' infographic.