Heroin (Drugs: The Straight Facts)

Carmen Ferreiro

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Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and its abuse has repercussions that extend far beyond the individual users. The health and social consequences of drug abuse—HIV/AIDS, violence, tuberculosis, fetal effects, crime, and disruptions in family, workplace, and educational environments—have a devastating impact on society and cost billions of dollars each year.

This is how Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes heroin. Yet heroin—that is, pure heroin—is just a semi-synthetic alkaloid (organic substance from plants), a diacetyl derivative of morphine, a white powder as harmless looking as powdered sugar. Street heroin, however, is an entirely different matter, and it is this form of heroin that Leshner is speaking about.

Because heroin is illegal in the United States, it has become a black market commodity (product available illegally only) and, as such, its color, purity, and even its name have changed. On the street, heroin is called smack, horse, H, dope, skag, or junk. As in other commercial markets, the dealers give their product brand names like “Tango & Cash,” “DOA” (dead on arrival), “Body Bag” (no explanation needed), and the more subtle “Red Rum”—murder spelled backward. A “fix” (enough heroin for a single high) is usually bought in a glassine (thin transparent paper that resists air...
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