How Heroin is Abused: Snorting, Injecting, and Smoking

Heroin is responsible for the majority of fatal overdoses in the U.S. The drug comes in a powder form, and it can be white, brown, black, or grey. It is a highly addictive substance, and as rates of prescription opioid addiction have risen, so too have addiction rates to heroin. Three-fourths of all people who become addicted to heroin started down the path of opiate addiction with a legal, prescription painkiller. Legal, prescription opioid-derivative drugs are easier to obtain than illicit heroin. But when a dependent person’s supplies of a prescription opioid run out, they are at risk of turning to heroin to feed their addiction and prevent withdrawal symptoms from manifesting.

How is Heroin Abused: Snorting, Smoking, Injecting

Heroin wasn’t always illegal. After the Civil War in the U.S., many soldiers returned home addicted to morphine, which was administered on the battlefield. It was during the Civil War that hypodermic needle kits became popular and mass-produced. At that time, people did not fully understand the science behind addiction. The drug manufacturer Bayer created heroin as an alternative to morphine, hoping the new drug would be less addictive and dangerous. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. After several years of increasing opioid addiction rates, the U.S. banned heroin in the 1920s. But making something illegal does not make it any less addictive or dangerous.

Today, more than half a million people in the U.S. are addicted to heroin. The drug can be taken in several different ways, and each method comes with its own set of side effects and risks. Despite its highly addictive properties and dangers, thousands of people enter rehab each year and achieve sobriety from heroin addiction.

How do people use heroin?

The most well-known way that a person takes heroin is by injecting the substance. But most people who start taking heroin do not go straight to injecting the substance. In many cases, people will either snort the drug or smoke the drug first.

Heroin is purchased in a powder form, and the powder can come in many different colors and shades. It can be all too easy for a person to mistake white cocaine and white heroin with each other, increasing the risk of a fatal overdose.

In its purest form, heroin powder will dissolve quickly in water, making it easy to inject with a needle. But in most cases, the drug is cut with other substances, including the following:

  • Caffeine
  • Talcum powder
  • OTC painkillers
  • Poison
  • Baking soda
  • Sugar
  • Powdered milk
  • Laundry detergent

Drug dealers will cut heroin with these other substances to increase the volume of the drug and make a higher profit. People who purchase heroin will find that mixed batches of the drug are less expensive, too. But unfortunately, smoking, injecting, or snorting adulterated heroin can cause severe health issues. Taking adulterated heroin, depending on the composition, can also mask the signs of an overdose.

Pure heroin will dissolve very quickly, no matter how it is taken. But these added ingredients are coarser, larger, and won’t disintegrate like heroin powder. These substances can become lodged in a person’s soft tissues, veins, arteries, and organs. Once they become lodged, they can kill off tissues and cells.

What are the consequences of snorting heroin?

People will sometimes snort heroin in much the same way a person would use cocaine. The powder is divided into lines and snorted. Snorting heroin will not get a person as high as quickly as smoking or injecting. But people will snort heroin because it is less stigmatizing than injecting it. People who are not severely addicted to the drug may also snort it because they aren’t looking to get as fast or as intense of a high. The high a person gets when snorting will take longer to manifest but will last for several hours.

When someone snorts heroin, the particles in the powder are irritating to the nasal passages and sinuses. Snorting heroin can lead to chronic congestion and sinus infections. In worst-case scenarios, snorting heroin can corrode the back of the throat and the nasal septum.

What are the risks involved when a person smokes heroin?

Smoking heroin will cause many side effects and health problems. Smoking any drug increases the risk of lung infections, but this risk is increased with heroin. Heroin will slow a person’s respiratory rate, which puts them at risk of lung infections and pneumonia. When someone smokes heroin, this risk is amplified. Smoking any substance also increases the risk of contracting lung cancer.

What are the risks associated with injecting heroin?

Injecting heroin is the riskiest way a person can take heroin because it dramatically increases the risk of contracting a bloodborne infection. In places where heroin use is rampant, HIV and hepatitis rates increase. People who inject heroin will sometimes share dirty needles, either on purpose or accidentally, thus transmitting these deadly illnesses. Injecting the drug is the most common way people abuse heroin. People who inject heroin are also likely to be addicted to more than just heroin, with nine in ten people who inject the drug addicted to at least one other substance.

Heroin injection will give a person a quick, intense high, increasing the risk of a fatal overdose. Injecting drugs of any sort also increases the chances of a person contracting a skin infection, or collapsing their veins. Injecting heroin is also a sign that someone’s addiction is incredibly severe.

Being addicted to any drug or alcohol dramatically decreases a person’s quality of life. They can lose their family, their job, their home, and even their life. Opioid addiction is one of the riskiest addictions, with heroin and opioid-related deaths responsible for more than 67% of all fatal drug overdoses. But it’s never too late to change.

If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin or opioid drugs, the experienced counselors and doctors at Windward Way are standing by to help you and your family. Please contact the technicians at Windward Way today to learn more about medically-assisted detox and drug addiction counseling.