heroinHeroin: Originally an OTC Pain Medication

Ask the average person on the street what he or she does when a headache comes along, and you can expect to hear the name of a brand-name over-the-counter pain medication, whether it is Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen or another in that category. A patient who has just had the wisdom teeth pulled or undergone some other type of surgery may be given a prescription for a bottle of Vicodin or Oxycontin. At the top of the scale of pain relieving medications is diacetylmorphine, alternatively known as diamorphine. It is reserved for use in treating the most severe types of pain, such as for a heart attack patient or for patients living through the final stages of terminal cancer. As the name implies, diacetylmorphine is a derivative of morphine, itself an opium derivative that has been in use for just short of two centuries now. Diamorphine was developed as an alternative to morphine, in the hopes that it would be less addictive. Though it is now a tightly regulated controlled substance, diacetylmorphine was originally marketed as an over-the-counter drug by the pharmaceutical company Bayer. The medication was marketed as having heroic effects in treating pain, suppressing coughs and for other purposes, and with this in mind Bayer advertised the drug under the trademark “Heroin.”

How is Heroin Used

Heroin is, of course, the most widely recognized name for diacetylmorphine, and it is this name that is used to refer to the substance as a street drug. It is found as either a pure white crystalline powder or a freebase powder that has less sheen to it, or as black tar heroin, a form which is less refined and, as the name implies, comes in a dark color and with a gooey texture. The drug is commonly dissolved in liquid so that it can be injected for the most immediate and powerful high. This route of administration, however, carries the risk of disease as a result of sharing needles with other addicts, or of venous sclerosis, a condition in which the veins used for injection become hard, so some choose to smoke the drug. Another method for using heroin is known as “chasing the dragon,” which involves heating a small amount of heroin on a piece of aluminum foil, while using a tube or a cigarette to inhale the vapors. Some users even consume heroin in a suppository to get the immediate and powerful high available through smoking without the same potential for respiratory system damage. Whatever route is used, the drug is never safe. Not only is it powerfully addictive, but it also carries an enormous risk of overdose, which is often fatal.

How Dangerous is Heroin

A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet featured a graph which charted all of the major drugs according to their addictive qualities and their potential for physical harm. Alone in the top-right corner was heroin, by far the most addictive and dangerous drug known. Heroin had for many years been declining in popularity, as casual drug users learned to avoid the drug and its addictive properties. Recently, however, it has been making a comeback, doubling in the rates of use over the course of the past decade. Why is heroin becoming more widespread? There may be many reasons, but one stands out from the rest: What the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described as the recent epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, which are closely related to heroin, have become among the most widely prescribed and most commonly abused drugs in the United States, and are also now among the leading causes of fatal overdose. As the authorities have cracked down on the non-medical use of painkillers, the medications have become harder to find, with the result that painkiller addicts are increasingly turning to heroin as a substitute. Heroin has been a major drug of addiction for more than a century now, and the fact that it is making a resurgence is troubling to say the least.