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The heroin story.

"Heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportion in the United States. We now hear variations of that statement from virtually every section of the country as more Americans become painfully aware of the deadly menace of heroin in their communities. Arrest records demonstrate that it has spread to the suburbs of our cities, and even to rural areas."

"The wreckage of human lives left behind by the heroin plague has shocked the conscience of the Nation. With heroin necessarily comes despair, death, and violence, both to those who use it, and those unfortunate enough to come between an addict and his insatiable craving for the drug. Before the year is ended, indeed before this report to the 92nd Congress reaches the American people, now fewer than 2,000 senseless and often agonizing deaths will be traced to heroin addiction. The actual figure will in truth be much higher as we are limited to reports of a dozen cities where heroin-related deaths are recorded."

These statements, released in 1972, are from the House of Representatives' Committee on Crime Report 92-678 to Congress.


Heroin is a name, copyrighted in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, for diacetylmorphine which has the formula ([C.sub.21.H.sub.23.NO.sub.5]). It is one of over twenty alkaloids of opium, the juice extraction of a poppy plant named papaver somniferum. Heroin was first reported in 1874 by C.R. Wright in London. It was produced by acetylation of an opiate, morphine ([C.sub.17.H.sub.19.NO.sub.3]). In 1898 it was marketed as a safe product; free from addiction engendering properties then known to result from morphine. It, being a depressant, was used as a sleeping aid; also for coughs, asthma, and was even proposed as a treatment for morphinism. However, heroin has since been revealed as the most addictive of drugs, causing the dependency more quickly. It has been completely outlawed in the United States and is therefore no longer a prescibed medication, nor legal to possess, even for research, without a governmental authority. Following the elimination of heroin from the American Pharmacopea a half century ago, morphine became the analgesic most dependent upon by the medical profession.

There was still the dangerous side effect to fear, addiction, now referred to as physical and mental dependency. Therefore, medical science has devoted millions of dollars to find a safer pain relieving drug. Since 1950, over 1,600 substances have been studied, 35 of which are being marketed today. However, in a sense, the drive has been unsuccessful. All high potency synthetic drugs to establish dependency for some recipients. The search for the ideal substitute still goes on.

Heroin has been determined to be much more potent that the original parent drug, morphine, and has become the opiate preferred by illicit users. It has been ingested, smoked, and a few users have "snorted" the heroin by sniffing it into the nose. However, this causes a sore condition in the nostrils that may eventually ulcerate the septum. In the United States, close to 95% of those using heroin "take a fix" by dissolving the drug in a little water and injecting it into the body; usually intravenously into the bloodstream. This is generally done with an "outfit" which often consists of just a hypodermic needle attached to a medicine dropper or, of available, a professional syringe. In desperation, when these implements are unavailable, users have been known to open the vein with a pin or other instrument so that the end of an eyedropper can be inserted to make the injection.


Hypes (addicts) protest the term "dope fiends", however, it does seem fiendish to push needles into their veins very few hours trying to escape the responsibilities of normal living. In time, thousands of these punctures cause veins to collapse. Hypes, sick and suffering, desperate for a "fix", take no time for sterilization. Uncleanliness of the needle (that is perhaps shared with others why may have tuberculosis, or worse) too often results in contagion and infections that, in some cases, have spread over the user's body. Diseases, such as hepatitis, tetanus, plus abcesses also result. Addicts resorting to prostitution spread even uglier contamination, and have given birth to infants born addicted who have suffered convulsions and often died. If infants do survive, through treatment or otherwise, their chances for health and happiness are limited by the neglect of addicted mothers, some of whom have given the child drugs to avoid attendant responsibilities.


From lenghty research, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs released a statement of the symptoms resulting from heroin use. The following descriptive words are used in that report: euphoria, drowsiness, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, depression, confusion, panic, slurred speech, tremors, impairment of coordination, depressed reflexes, increased sweating, constricted pupils, dilated pupils, runny nose, watering eyes, constipation, loss of appetite, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea. The Bureau also emphasizes the danger of addiction, specifically calling attention to physical and psychological dependence, plus tolerance. They reveal the danger of convulsions, unconsciousness, and death from overdose.

These are tangible symptoms that can be observed. However, just listing them here does not fully convey the suffering addicts endure when they cannot obtain their fix (an injection of sufficient drug to allay the onset of the withdrawal syndrome) on time. The addict's life becomes a constant struggle to obtain enough drug to avoid being sick. To the symptoms the Bureau enumerates, consider the more detailed description of the withdrawal experience described in the last column of this Reference Sheet. It reveals what an addict faces when he or she has not been able to obtain the dose needed every few hours.


Heroin has a "built in trap." It creates feelings of gratifying relaxation for the novice user. When injected into a vein, an additional compelling and more intense immediate pleasurable experience occurs. Even though the user may also feel sick and vomit after an injection, this satisfaction quickly captivates his or her thinking; establishing a desire that assures continued use. During this period side effects take place. Heroin slows breathing, retards the motions of the intestines, depresses the heart action, and establishes other morbid conditions. All these changes gradually lessen even though the user continues with the same dosage every few hours. Thus, tolerance becomes evident. This prompts the user to increase the dosage in an effort to regain sensations that also diminish. The body soon adjusts to this larger intake of heroin, and the user increases the amount administered again and again.

This is the way physical dependence begins; an adjustment of the body to overcome the abnormal functions being caused by this drug. The more heroin used, the more the adjustment. Finally the system functions with pseudo-normalcy only with the drug present in the body at a level near tolerance. When the user can no longer supply the amount of narcotic the body now needs every few hours, there has to be another "adjustment" back to true normalcy without heroin. This often involves an extremely unpleasant experience that addicts fear. The result is they struggle to "obtain their drug by any means." This leads to prostitution or other crime that will produce "bread", their term for money. Studies by the U.S. Senate and other agencies have determined that half of all big city crime, and a large part of all crime, is the result of drug addiction. The fact is users are so desperate they will do most anything to obtain their drug. This has provided funds to support extensive opium production, and illicit heroin manufacturer.

Recent studies by U.S. House of Representatives Committees reveal: In the United States, since the 1950s, those dependent upon heroin have increased from less than 50,000 to an estimated 250,000. (Other less conservative estimates now approach the one million mark). Many factors -- returning addicted or drug using military veterans, increase in illicit use of barbiturates, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs that become steps toward harder drug use -- all threaten us, and youth especially, with an ever increasing heroin addiction problem. ThisP is true also because a gigantic worldwide organization has been developed to smuggle heroin and distribute it at tremendous profit. The House Committee Studying Crime published their second report to the 91st Congress, in which it was stated:

". . . heroin traffic is controlled by 12 or 15 leaders of organized crime syndicates. These people are known to the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Customs, and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs." The heroin traffic report continued, still quoting William Tendy of the U.S. Attorney's Office in South New York:

". . . I agree basically that the United States by and large is controlled by the mob." The Crime Committee further reported, quoting Albert Seeley, Agent, U.S. Bureau of Customs: "Heroin, from its very start to its very ultimate receiver, to the addict on the street, is strictly organization from top to bottom no matter how you cut it up or look at it; frontward, backward, sideward, or upside down. It's organization, and the layman can't get into it unless he has organization."

Heroin production begins beyond the the borders of the Unites States. Opium is grown legally in only a half dozen countries. Some is illicitly grown in Mexico and processed into heroin in clandestine laboratories there. However, vast areas in the Middle and Far East, where farmers get two crops a year, are legally and illegally planted with the opium poppy. Harvesting is laborious work. Each flower pod, while unripe, must be skillfully incised (cut) so that the juice will excrete outward only. The congealed raw opium must soon be scraped from each pod and readied for processing to morphine base. This substance is then smuggled to clandestine laboratories in France, or elsewhere, for manufacture to heroin. Following this process, it is smuggled into the United States and other countries. Heroin, reaching this continent in its pure state, is a white, bitter tasting, crystalline powder. Impurities may give it a grey or beige cast. In pure form a small amount could kill its user. Heroin sold to the addict is mixed with 85 to 95%, or more, adulterant.


A person addicted to heroin will begin to show distress because of the need of more drug within a few hours from the last full dose, and reach a maximum intensity within twelve hours or less. The abstinence symptoms from heroin use are ordinarily more severe than those from morphine, which results in a more gradual attainment of the abstinence reaction peak at 40 to 44 hours, more or less from the last satisfying dose.


The first symptoms to appear are watering of the eyes, mucuous is discharged from the nose, perspiration becomes noticeable, and the addict begins to yawn considerably. Restlessness begins to develop, which is accompanied by increasing nervousness, both becoming worse as the addict progresses toward the maximum discomfort. They begin to complain of chilly sensations and of aching back and limb muscles. This progresses to cramps and the initial symptoms become more severe as tears run from the eyes and excess mucuous is discharged from the nose. Perspiration develops to a cold sweat, and is accompanied by recurring waves of goose-flesh. Dilation of the pupils (which contracted after the last fix) becomes obvious. The addicts thrash around in their beds, twitching their arms, legs, and feet almost constantly. The addict experiences labored breathing, fever, and tension builds to the hyper stage. Laboratory tests reveal excess white corpuscles and sugar in the blood. Addicts often beg for candy bars; a desire resulting from sugar imbalance.

Regardless of the severity of these "first period" symptoms, the worst is still to be endured, and the user knows that heroin will bring the entire syndrome to a stop and enough drug will even provide pleasant euphoria immediately. This will result in addicts giving up their good intentions to get free of drugs unless they are confined where escape is not possible. Twenty four hours of this "experience" finds the heroin addict at his most wretched state; one that will continue on for another twenty four or more. Piercing abdomimal cramps, nausea, vomiting, retching, gagging, choking, plus mental despair reaching the level of hopelessness, with even suicidal thoughts. These words, as shocking as they may be, hardly describe the true "kicking" experience addicts suffer. Thrashing from side to side, thrusting out with their arms, jerking their legs, or even stretching out on the cold floor (hoping a temperature change will lessen the pain), they try to find relief. Huddled under what covers they have, shivering even in hot weather, they become "pictures" of abject misery.

These words, depicting this tragic scene of a human being who has hit the bottom, still do not adequately describe the depth of torment in which the user finds himself. They must also tell about the odor and mess from a loss of control during regurgatation or because of diarrhea also plaguing the addict, who often loses up to 15 pounds during the first 24 hours. They haven't as yet explained the danger of death from aspiration pneumonia, the result of inhaling ejected matter from the stomach. They must also describe the further danger of illness or death from disease contracted during this period of weakness, or from other neglect concomitant to an addict's life. Word descriptions do not always truly reveal the change in a user's thinking, about the loss of youthful zest in his or her personality, about the development of the user's weaker traits, and the subjugation of stronger ones to heroin. Words alone hardly convey the true listlessness, tiredness, the decrease in sexual interests, and especially the single interest to get drugs regularly that always captivates the addict's thoughts.

After the several days during which as user "kicks it out" the symptoms of abstinence decline until most signs of drug deprivation disappear. This does not mean a patient is again normal. Weakness, nervousness, and insommia are remaining complaints. Actually several months of abstinence are necessary to regain normalcy, and minor physiologic abberations may persist for a few additional months. After the withdrawal of drugs, the users usually gain weight, expressions are from thoughts of ambition and determination to remain drug free, interest in the opposite sex usually returns, and a more healthy appearance becomes obvious. However, this is only physical normality.

Mental problems are still existent; not only ones that prompted the original interest in drug use, but others acquired from that experience. The memory of the euphoria, the drug crutch to "lean" on, and other dependency desires associated with mental habituation -- those too often become overwhelming. Soon the addict, "overlooking" the dangers involved -- like the drunkard ignoring the delirium tremens -- yields to the suggestion of "just one heroin fix" and thus begins the whole cycle again and again.
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Publication:Pamphlet by: Narcotic Educational Foundation of America
Article Type:pamphlet
Date:Jun 20, 1991
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