Title:   Drug Proofing the Family
 Authors:   Erica Wittenberg & Jim Parker

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:


..Heroin & Narcotics

Although the term "narcotics" is sometimes used inaccurately to describe all drugs (or, at least, all illegal drugs), narcotics are actually a small family of drugs hanging by a common thread: they relieve pain.

There are two basic types of narcotics: opiates, which are derived from the opium poppy (e.g. morphine, codeine, and heroin), and synthetics, including such drugs as methadone, Dilaudid®, Demerol®, Darvon®, and Percodan®.

Although narcotics are the least-used of all the major drug groups by children, heroin use has been on the upswing in recent years, with past-year use in 2002 by high school seniors running more than double over 1992 totals.

Heroin travels under a lot of assumed names, including "H," "horse," "smack," and "junk." It's sold as a white or brown powder (sometimes called "China white" or "Mexican mud") or as a dark, sticky resin, called "black tar." Heroin and morphine are usually injected, although in recent years the average purity of street heroin has been so high that it can be sniffed or smoked. Prescription narcotics are usually dispensed in pill form, but can be dissolved and injected.

Besides relieving pain, narcotics also reduce anxiety and induce feelings of euphoria. In the process, they constrict pupils, cause constipation, and reduce both respiration and blood pressure.

Dangers tied to street narcotics are well known, although many people forget that prescription drugs can cause the same problems:

  • Dependence. All narcotics produce a strong physical and psychological dependence, linked to drug specifics and duration of use.
  • Overdose. Narcotic overdoses are life-threatening, especially with heroin, since potency can vary so much on the street.
  • Withdrawal. Symptoms include chills, cramps, sniffles, diarrhea, and vomiting piled on top of intense anxiety. Still, even if it might seem a fate worse than death to unwilling addicts, opiate withdrawal rarely involves life-threatening complications.
  • HIV/AIDS. Since users often have to share "works" (injection-drug equipment), contaminated needles remain a major source of HIV infection.

Surprisingly, narcotics are less likely than alcohol, depressants, or stimulants to cause direct harm to the central nervous system or to internal organs. Aside from the risks of overdose and HIV infection, physical damage most often results from indirect causes, such as malnutrition and poor health.

An especially risky form of narcotics are so-called designer drugs, which usually turn up on the street during heroin shortages or "panics." Manufactured in illegal labs, designer "heroin" is often a variation on the synthetic narcotic, fentanyl.

It carries the same risks as heroin, but poses an even greater threat of overdose, since the fentanyl high wears off before its respiratory depressant effects.

Marijuana Alcohol/Downers Heroin/Narcotics Stimulants
....Cocaine/Crack Hallucinogens Inhalants Other Resources


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This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org.