Fulton County Logo
Contact the County
Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities banner

Heroin | Print |

What is Heroin?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted ¬†from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder that is ‚Äúcut‚ÄĚ with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine.


Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste that predominantly originates in South America and, to a lesser extent, from Southeast Asia, and dominates U.S. markets east of the Mississippi River.   Highly pure heroin can be snorted or smoked and may be more appealing to new users because it eliminates the stigma associated with injection drug use.

‚ÄúBlack tar‚ÄĚ heroin is sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal and is predominantly produced in Mexico and sold in U.S. areas west of the Mississippi River. ¬† The dark color associated with black tar heroin results from crude processing methods that leave behind impurities. Impure heroin is usually dissolved, diluted, and injected into veins, muscles, or under the skin. ¬†

What Are The Effects of Heroin?

Heroin user

Short Term Effects

People who use heroin report feeling a "rush" (a surge of pleasure, or euphoria). However, there are other common effects, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms & legs
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Aback & forth state of being conscious & semi-conscious ¬†

Long Term Effects

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation & stomach cramping
  • Liver & kidney disease
  • Lung complications including pneumonia
  • mental disorders, such as depression & antisocial personality disorder
  • sexual dysfunction for men
  • irregular menstrual cycles for women

Other Potential Effects

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin often contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage. Also, sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis  

Warning Signs of Heroin Use

  • Users exhibit a feeling of well-being and happiness
  • It can also make you feel like the world has slowed down
  • Individuals may think slowly and might move slowly
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Pupils in the center of each eye get very small
  • Injecting heroin may leave marks on the skin where the needle went in

When the heroin wears off, people may experience the following:

  • Pain in muscles & bones
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Unable to sleep
  • Nervousness

Treatments for Heroin Addiction


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a  variety of effective treatments are available for heroin addiction, including both behavioral and pharmacological (medications). Both approaches help to restore a degree of normalcy to brain function and behavior, resulting in increased employment rates and lower risk of HIV and other diseases and criminal behavior. Although behavioral and pharmacologic treatments can be extremely useful when utilized alone, research shows that for some people, integrating both types of treatments is the most effective approach.

Effective medications include:

  • Methadone (Dolophine¬ģ ¬†or Methadose¬ģ) is a slow-acting opioid agonist. Methadone is taken orally so that it reaches the brain slowly, dampening the ‚Äúhigh‚ÄĚ that occurs with other routes of administration while preventing withdrawal symptoms. Methadone has been used since the 1960s to treat heroin addiction and is still an excellent treatment option, particularly for patients who do not respond well to other medications. Methadone is only available through approved outpatient treatment programs, where it is dispensed to patients on a daily basis.
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex¬ģ) is a partial opioid agonist. Buprenorphine relieves drug cravings without producing the ‚Äúhigh‚ÄĚ or dangerous side effects of other opioids. Suboxone¬ģ ¬†is a novel formulation of buprenorphine that is taken orally or sublingually and contains naloxone (an opioid antagonist) to prevent attempts to get high by injecting the medication. If an addicted patient were to inject Suboxone, the naloxone would induce withdrawal symptoms, which are averted when taken orally as prescribed. FDA approved buprenorphine in 2002, making it the first medication eligible to be prescribed by certified physicians through the Drug Addiction Treatment Act. This approval eliminates the need to visit specialized treatment clinics, thereby expanding access to treatment for many who need it. In February 2013, FDA approved two generic forms of Suboxone, making this treatment option more affordable.
  • Naltrexone (Depade¬ģ ¬†or Revia¬ģ) is an opioid antagonist. Naltrexone blocks the action of opioids, is not addictive or sedating, and does not result in physical dependence; however, patients often have trouble complying with the treatment, and this has limited its effectiveness. An injectable long-acting formulation of naltrexone (Vivitrol¬ģ) recently received FDA approval for treating opioid addiction. Administered once a month, Vivitrol¬ģ ¬†may improve compliance by eliminating the need for daily dosing.

If you have questions about our addiction treatment programs, please call the Fulton County Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities at (404) 613-1650.