Drug & Alcohol Recovery and Education Centre

"Turning Lives Around"

Drug Information

Hammer, H, Smack, Horse, White, Beige


Heroin is a depressant It affects the body's central nervous system by slowing down the activity of certain chemicals in the brain This slows down the whole body, including breathing and heart rate.

Where Heroin Comes From:

Heroin belongs to a group of drugs called narcotic analgesics or opioids. These drugs are very strong pain relievers. Opioids are derived from a substance produced by the opium poppy which, when dried is known as opium. Heroin is manufactured from morphine or codeine, which are chemicals in the juice of the opium poppy head. Heroin is a stronger and more addictive drug than morphine or codeine.

People have used opium for several thousand years in a variety of cultures. Heroin was first synthesised in 1898 in a London hospital to treat morphine addiction. The opium poppy grows in many parts of the world. In Australia, crops are grown legally in Tasmania for medical purposes. Most of the illegal heroin in Australia comes from Asia and the Middle East.

How Heroin is Used:

Heroin is usually injected, but can also be smoked or snorted.

The effects of heroin usually last from two to four hours.

Health effects of Using Heroin:

The effects of heroin will vary from person to person depending on the characteristics of the:


Individual (user) – Mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with heroin, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken

Drug – The amount used, its purity, and whether it is injected, smoked or snorted

Setting (environment) – Whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving


Short-term effects

Low doses

  • Shallow breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Sleeplessness
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Loss of concentration
  • Feeling of well-being
  • Relief from pain


High doses

  • Slow breathing
  • Pupils narrow to pin points
  • Skin cold to touch
  • Coma and death


Long-term effects

  • Dependence
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chronic constipation
  • Heart, chest and bronchial problems
  • Women often experience irregular periods and are susceptible to infertility
  • Men can experience impotence

There are also dangerous effects associated with the method of use

Injecting heroin can result in blocked blood vessels that can cause major damage to the body’s organs, inflamed blood vessels and abscesses, blood poisoning, bacterial infections which may damage the heart valves, vein collapse, infection at injection site, bruising or more serious injuries if users inject into an artery or tissue.

Snorting can damage the fragile mucous membrane in the nasal passages, producing burns and sores on the membranes that line the interior of the nose.



Overdose from heroin occurs as a result of the depressant properties of the drug.

Heroin can slow a person's heart and breathing rates, leading to heart and respiratory failure, and in turn, to coma and death.


The risk of heroin overdose generally increases with a larger dose.

As the strength and content of street heroin is unknown it can be difficult to judge the dose, increasing the risk of overdose.


Heroin and Other Drugs

Using more than one drug at a time can have unpredictable and dangerous effects.

Mixing heroin with other drugs increases the risk of harm, for example, mixing heroin with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other depressants can be fatal as it increases the risk of heart failure.

Watershed acknowledges the traditional custodians of country and their continuing connection to land, culture and community. We pay our respects to elders past, present and future.

Watershed holds accreditation with the Australian Council on Health Care Standards (ACHS).

Formerly: Wollongong Crisis Centre

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