Heroin is known by names such as ‘smack’, ‘skag’ and ‘brown’, and is often combined with cocaine or crack in a cocktail known as a ‘snowball’ or ‘speedball’.
Heroin is the popular name (originally a brand name) for diacetylmorphine or diamorphine, which is synthesized from morphine, a derivative of the opium poppy. It is a strong pain-killer, and also has powerful euphoriant and anxiolytic effects (i.e. it produces feelings of wellbeing and freedom from worry).
While pharmaceutical heroin is white, most of the heroin available in the UK is a brownish powder and is in fact the base form of the drug (an intermediary stage in the production process). This makes it suitable for smoking, and much illicit heroin is smoked on tin-foil (‘chasing the dragon’ or ‘booting’). Like its pure, water-soluble form diamorphine, brown heroin can be injected, but needs an acidifier to be added to make it dissolve (vitamin C is often used).
Heroin is a highly addictive drug, producing tolerance to its effects and deep physical dependence—without it the user becomes ill and unable to function normally. The time taken to become addicted varies with the individual and context, as does the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Overdose can be fatal
Heroin is a Class A, schedule 2 drug. It is illegal to possess without a prescription, or to supply or produce without a licence.
Possession of Class A drugs carries a maximum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Trafficking offences carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine.
Free, confidential information and advice is available by calling the Release Drugs Helpline on 0845 45 00 215