Heroin is a highly addictive drug that causes feelings of euphoria in users. This illicit drug is rarely sold in its pure form, and is most often mixed with additives. Heroin may be smoked, snorted, or injected. People who would never consider injecting drugs may smoke or snort high-purity heroin. Some people falsely believe that heroin is not addictive unless it’s injected, thinking they are safe if they snort or smoke the drug.
Despite its reputation as a hard-core street drug, heroin abuse does occur on campus, though in much smaller numbers than marijuana and cocaine abuse. According to The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in 2003:
- 1.0 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
- Less than 0.05 percent reported heroin use in the past month
The additives mixed with heroin 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 heroin itself.
Heroin users are at risk for many disastrous consequences. Even first-time users of heroin are at risk for fatal overdose, miscarriage, and, in those who inject the drug, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Repeated abusers may experience infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulitis, liver disease, and pulmonary complications. As with cocaine, chronic users of heroin develop a tolerance for the drug, needing to increase use to achieve the same high. Withdrawal in regular users may occur within hours of taking the last dose, and withdrawal symptoms may be fatal.
Treatment experts recommend that those who are trying to quit using heroin seek professional detoxification services where they will be monitored by medical and drug treatment professionals. According to the ONDCP, heroin accounted for 11 percent of the total drug and alcohol treatment admissions in 2002.