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What is heroin and how is it used?


  • Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opiate drug synthesized from morphine.
  • Heroin is typically injected, snorted or smoked.
  • The heroin found in Nevada is a black, sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.”

What is its effect on the body and mind?

Because it enters the brain so rapidly, heroin is particularly addictive, both psychologically and physically. Users say they feel a sense of euphoria followed by a twilight state of sleep and wakefulness when first using heroin (United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs of Abuse 2015 Edition: A DEA Resource Guide.)

One of the most significant effects of heroin use is addiction. Like other drugs it hijacks the pleasure/reward pathway.  Regular heroin use can lead to tolerance which means the user will need more and more of the drug to feel the same effect (NIDA, 2010).

A 26-year-old heroin addict says, “Heroin lasts, the part where you’re getting high, for maybe a couple of months, and then I don’t remember exactly but it seems it was all of a sudden like a maintenance kind of thing” (Cohen & Inaba, 2007).   A heroin users may start with one balloon per day and can quickly progress to using ten times that amount in weeks.  A typical heroin user may spend over $200 per day buying drugs.

A dependent heroin user may have withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting within a few hours of their last use. (NIDA, 2010).

Nearly half of heroin addicts will die prematurely (Hser, Hoffman, Grella, & Anglin, 2001).

What are the signs and symptoms of heroin use

  • Constricted Pupils
  • Sedation/Sleepiness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Sudden Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Cold and Flu like symptoms that persist
  • Slurred Speech in a Raspy Voice

What should I look for in the house?

  • Small Balloons (used to transport individual doses of heroin – picture shown below)
  • LightersHollowed out pens or straws
  • Tin foil with burn marks or black resin (shown below)
    • the lighter is used under the tinfoil to burn the heroin
  • Black resin smudges on furniture drawers, door knobs, light switches

What else should I look for?

  • a child who may be asking for a lot of money
  • missing items (the user may be selling clothing or other items from home for cash)

What would you do to raise money for a $200 a day habit? 

Heroin users may:

  • Ask for Money
  • Sell items for money
  • Steal
  • Prostitute

What are its overdose effects?

Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at a high risk of overdose or death. (United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs of Abuse 2015 Edition: A DEA Resource Guide.)

The effects of a heroin overdose are:

  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Blue lips and fingernails
  • Clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Comma
  • Possible death

Local statistics from the Regional Street Enforcement Team provided by Reno SET:

  • In 2006, only 28% of heroin arrestees were under the age of 30 — in 2009, 65% were under 30.
  • In 2009, nearly 1 in 5 people arrested for heroin were teenagers.
  • The percentage of heroin arrestees under age 30 more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.
  • Heroin seizures have increased by 3500% from 2007 to October 2010.

Which drugs cause similar effects?

  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Fentany


Cohen, W. & Inaba, D. (2007). Downers: Opiates/Opioids & sedative-hypnotics. In Uppers, Downers, All Arounders (2nd ed., pp 170-175). Medford, Oregon: CNS Productions, Inc.

Hser, Y.I, Hoffman, V, Grella, C.E., & Anglin, M.D. (2001). A 33-year follow-up of narcotics addicts. Archives of General Psychiatry 58 (5), 503-508.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2010). NIDA InfoFacts: Heroin. Retrieved from