By Cheryl Critchley
Heroin use is not common among Australian teenagers; latest figures reveal only 1.6 per cent of high-school students have used opiates or narcotics such as heroin or morphine other than for medical reasons.
Heroin is a depressant and belongs to a group of drugs known as “opioids” that are derived from the opium poppy. It comes in different forms, including fine white powder, coarse off-white granules and tiny pieces of light brown “rock”. Heroin is usually injected into a vein, but it can also be smoked (“chasing the dragon”) and added to cigarettes and cannabis. The effects are usually felt straight away. If snorted, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to take effect.
Unlike many other drugs, heroin addiction has a known treatment. Heroin users can be prescribed methadone, which is also an opiate but is much cheaper and less likely to result in an overdose. Used as a replacement drug, methadone can help stabilise heroin users as they withdraw. Methadone is also used as a pain reliever following heart attacks, trauma and surgery.
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WHO IS USING HEROIN?
The 2011 Australian secondary students’ survey found that 1.6 per cent reported using opiates or narcotics such as heroin or morphine other than for medical reasons. One per cent said they used opiates in the past year. Of that 1 per cent, 54 per cent had used them only once or twice.
Methadone is often taken as part of treatment for heroin dependence, as it can help prevent physical withdrawal symptoms. It is also used to relieve pain following heart attacks, trauma and surgery.
Morphine is widely used for pain relief in adults and children. It is highly effective but extended use can have side-effects such as constipation, low blood pressure, confusion and shallow breathing.
A synthetic version of morphine, pethidine is a pain reliever perhaps best known for its use during childbirth. It is generally used to treat moderate to severe pain.
SHORT & LONG TERM EFFECTS
View the Australian Drug Foundation’s short and long term effects of heroin here.
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