Heroin is an opiate synthesized from morphine that is extracted from the seed of the poppy plant. It comes in two forms: white or brown powder and as a black sticky substance referred to as 'black tar heroin.' There are three different routes of delivery for heroin: Users can smoke, snort, or inject it. When heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine where it binds to opioid receptors located in areas of the brain dealing with pain and reward. It also affects the brain stem, which controls such functions as breathing. This helps explain why many heroin overdoses result from decreased respiration. Heroin is a highly addictive drug that causes feelings of euphoria. According to the National Survey for Drug Use and Health, there were approximately 140,000 new heroin users in the United States in 2010, and the average age of initiation was 21.3.
Despite its reputation as a hard-core street drug, heroin abuse does occur on campus, though in much smaller numbers than with marijuana and cocaine. According to data from Monitoring the Future, during 2010:
- 0.7 percent of college students reported using heroin at least once during their lifetimes
- 0.2 percent of college students reported heroin use in the past year
- Fewer than 0.05 percent of college students reported heroin use in the past month
Heroin users are at risk for many negative consequences. Heroin is rarely sold in its pure form and is most often mixed with additives. These additives include sugar, quinine, starch, and even strychnine. Because users don't know what they're taking, or even the concentration of the drug in the street heroin they purchase, these unknown additives compound the potential dangers of the drug itself. Even first-time users of heroin are at risk for fatal overdose, miscarriage, and, in those who inject the drug, infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users might also develop such issues as collapsed veins, abscesses, cellulitis, infection of the heart lining and valves, liver disease, and pulmonary complications, such as pneumonia. Chronic users of heroin develop a tolerance for the drug, needing a larger dose or more frequent use to achieve the same effect. Withdrawal in regular users may occur within hours of taking the last dose, and withdrawal symptoms could be fatal. People who abuse heroin are also at high risk for dependence.
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