Heroin: Ingestion methods

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:08 pm

Until very recently, the most common means of administering heroin was injection with a hypodermic needle, either intravenously (into a vein; called “mainlining”), subcutaneously (just under the skin; called “skin-popping”) or intramuscularly (injected into muscle rather than a vein). Injection by regular users and addicts was preferred because the street drug was so diluted with fillers that injection was the most efficient way to get high.
Many first-time intravenous users of heroin have intensely negative reactions to the drug, including nausea and vomiting. For many, this is enough to turn them off heroin for good, but for others, social pressures and other factors compel them to keep trying until they find the high they anticipated.
With purity levels of packaged heroin increasing, the drug can now be snorted or smoked, severing for many people the negative associations heroin has with intravenous drug use. This has greatly expanded heroin’s pool of potential users and addicts, especially among young people.
According to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), smoking produces lower levels of heroin in the blood than injection, but the effects on the user are roughly similar. Smoking heroin also gives users more control over their intake of the drug without the burden of preparing another intravenous dose.
Snorting heroin is probably the least efficient means of taking the drug and has several immediate drawbacks, including strong stomach cramps and a constantly running nose. Many regular users of heroin began by snorting the drug on occasion. This kind of early heroin use is called “chipping.” A high percentage of chippers eventually turn to injection of the drug before realizing they are hooked.

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