Alere is now Abbott



Heroin is produced by extracting opium from the latex drained from the poppy seed heads of Papaver Somniferum. Opium contains a group of chemicals known as opiate alkaloids including morphine. A process of acetylation converts morphine into diacetylmorphine. When produced illicitly the drug is called heroin, the medical name for this strong painkiller is diamorphine.

Heroin is used as a recreational drug for the intense euphoria it induces, however tolerance develops quickly, and increased doses are needed in order to achieve the same effects.

Heroin usually comes as an off white or brown powder. Heroin can be dissolved, diluted, and injected into veins, muscles, or under the skin. Smoking the drug involves heating up the powder on some foil, and then inhaling the fumes through a small tube.



Heroin can be prepared for injection by dissolving it in water. The heroin commonly found in Europe will only dissolve in water when mixed with an acid (most commonly citric acid powder or lemon juice) and heated. Heroin in the east-coast United States is most commonly found in the hydrochloride salt form, requiring just water (and no heat) to dissolve.



Freebase heroin is vapourised and the resulting fumes inhaled. This is normally done using a glass pipe, however it can also be smoked off foil, which is heated by a flame whilst the fumes are inhaled through a tube. This is called "chasing the dragon".



In its pure form heroin can be snorted.

  • Feeling of warmth and relaxation
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Sedative
  • Highly addictive
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death
  • Overdose when taken with other drugs (especially alcohol, benzodiazepines or methadone)


  • Overdosing
  • Damage to veins and arteries
  • Ulceration and gangrene
  • Contracting a blood borne virus (if sharing needles)
Heroin powder and needle


Molecular structure of heroin

Street Names

smack, skag, horse, H, gear, brown, brown sugar, china white, junk, fix, whack

Legal Status

Class A Substance

Possession of the drug can lead to up to seven years in jail, an unlimited fine or both. Supplying the drug can lead to up to life imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

For more information about drug classifications and the associated penalties visit the Home Office website.