Australian Institute of Criminology

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Heroin is an opioid or narcotic analgesic made from a sticky resin secreted by the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Produced by a chemical process, it results in a white, brown or pink powder or granules. The most common form of heroin seized in Australia is the purest form - a white powder that is easily dissolved and injected intravenously. Street heroin is often "cut" with additives making it difficult to establish the actual contents or purity of a street deal.

A crude form of heroin made from codeine is known as "homebake".

Heroin is a depressant drug, slowing the activity of the central nervous system. The initial effect of heroin, experienced immediately after injecting, is a rush of intense pleasure and feelings of well-being. This lasts about half an hour and gives way to three to four hours of lethargy.

Heroin reduces pain, hunger and libido and slows breathing and pulse rate. Blood pressure decreases and the pupils of the eyes get smaller. Heavier doses cause a feeling of warmth and increase the likelihood of sleep ('on the nod') but may lead to nausea and vomiting. Overdoses can cause respiratory failure and death. When heroin is taken in combination with other depressant drugs (such as alcohol or benzodiazepines) its effects are magnified, as is the risk of overdose.

Long-term use of heroin can lead to a loss of appetite and sex drive, sexual dysfunction, pneumonia and constipation. Psychological and physical dependence are common results of long-term use and can lead to financial, dietary, lifestyle and health problems. Dependent users develop a tolerance and need higher doses to achieve the same effects. Some common treatment options for heroin-dependent users include methadone, naltrexone and burprenorphine maintenance, and counselling.

Heroin is most commonly injected intravenously but it can be smoked or snorted. Alternatively, heroin can be heated on tin foil and the vapours inhaled, a practice known as "chasing the dragon" or "tooting".

The manufacture, possession, use and supply of heroin is illegal throughout Australia as is its importation.

In 2004, 384,800 people aged 14 years and over reported having used heroin, methadone and/or other opioids in their lifetime, with 56,300 using in the previous 12 months.

Heroin is produced in three major regions known as the golden triangle (Burma, Laos, Thailand), golden crescent (Afghanistan) and Central and South America. The majority of heroin imported into Australia comes from Burma. However there are suggestions that due to the continuing decline in opium production in South East Asia, traffickers may begin to look to Afghanistan as a source of heroin.

Policing agencies indicate that most of the importation and distribution of heroin is controlled by a small number of crime groups.

The availability of heroin at the street level is unpredictable. Research examining the impact of the heroin shortage in 2000-01 in Australia noted that the increase in heroin prices and the reduction in heroin availability and purity lowered the overall demand for heroin. However, while the demand for heroin was lowered, there was a subsequent increase in demand for cocaine.

Street Names

Big harry, black tar, boy, china white, chinese H, dope, dragon, elephant, gear, H, hammer, harry, horse, junk, low, poison, rocks, skag, slow, smack, whack, white, white dynamite