How Is Heroin Used? Heroin Route Of Administration

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Heroin is an addictive opioid drug that can be smoked, snorted, injected, plugged rectally, or mixed with other substances. All routes of heroin administration carry certain health risks, including physical dependence and addiction.

Heroin Methods Of Abuse

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that belongs to the opioid (opiate) drug class. It is partially derived from the opium poppy plant, native to South America and parts of Southeast Asia.

Unlike prescription drugs in this class, such as codeine, heroin is an illicit drug. It’s illegal to use in the United States. It is primarily made in the form of a powder or solid, tar-like substance.

Heroin drug abuse is associated with several short-term and long-term health problems, as well as a risk of opioid overdose.

Methods Of Heroin Use

Heroin can be used in several ways. How it is used will largely depend on the form of heroin used, the preferences of the person using the drug, and other personal factors.

Injecting Heroin

Heroin can be dissolved into a liquid form for drug injection. This can be done with white powder heroin, brown powder heroin, and black tar heroin (a hard or taffy-like substance).

Heroin can be injected into the muscle, veins, or under the skin for rapid, euphoric effects.

Snorting Heroin

Powdered forms of heroin, including white and brown powder forms, can be sniffed, or snorted.

For some, this may be a more convenient or less invasive method of heroin use, although the drug is absorbed more slowly than injection drug use.

Smoking Heroin

Smoking heroin, like snorting heroin, is more common among people who are new to heroin use, due to the stigma attached to injection drug use.

But, like with insufflation (snorting), the effects of heroin are less intense when the drug is smoked. And those who use the drug chronically often transition to injecting the drug over time.

Plugging Heroin

Although less common than other methods of use, heroin can be inserted rectally, a practice known as “plugging.”

Plugging heroin can be very dangerous because heroin can enter the bloodstream very quickly this way, this method of use carries a risk for problems such as heroin overdose and coma.

What Is The Most Common Way Heroin Is Used?

Although heroin can be used in several different ways, injecting heroin is the most common way the drug is used among those with heroin dependence and heroin addiction.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, heroin injection can become the most efficient means of administering the drug once you have built up a high tolerance for opioids.

The effects of heroin are quicker and more intense this way. This method of use also comes with associated health problems, including serious risks and dangers.

Risks And Dangers Of Injecting Heroin

Injecting heroin can cause rapid, short-term side effects that make it a preferred route of administration among those who use the drug frequently and chronically.

But it is also associated with many short-term health problems and long-term health issues that can impair quality of life and potentially pose life-threatening consequences.

Long-Term Effects

Heroin injection can cause dermatological issues, such as scabs, abscesses, collapsed veins, and track marks that can become visible signs of a substance use problem.

Other long-term effects of injecting heroin can include:

  • physical dependence
  • psychological addiction
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • heroin teeth
  • liver and kidney disease
  • scarring of the veins
  • pneumonia
  • tuberculosis
  • infection of the heart valves and living

Bloodborne Disease

Injecting illicit drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine is considered a risk factor for the development of certain bloodborne diseases.

Hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS can be contracted through sharing needles and syringes, or through unprotected sex with someone who carries one or more of these diseases.

High Risk Of Overdose

Overdose is a major concern among those who use heroin, in large part because much of the heroin sold on the street today is laced with illicit fentanyl, a very powerful, synthetic opioid.

Overdose can be fatal or nonfatal, depending on the amount taken, whether it’s been mixed with other drugs and the administration of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

Internationally, overdose is the primary cause of death among those who inject drugs, although this can also occur through other methods of use, such as snorting or smoking heroin.

Short-Term Effects Of Shooting Heroin

Injecting or “shooting” heroin can cause a range of side effects very quickly after use.

Effects can include:

  • drowsiness
  • euphoria (i.e. a “rush” or “high”)
  • dry mouth
  • nausea or vomiting
  • heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • tiny pupils
  • itching

Learn more about the effects of heroin on the brain.

Heroin Abuse And Addiction Treatment

The use of heroin can be highly addictive and dangerous regardless of the method of abuse.

When and if a person has become unable to stop using heroin on their own, a heroin treatment program may be needed, beginning with detoxification and treatment for withdrawal.

A treatment plan for heroin addiction may include:

  • medication-assisted treatment with methadone,
  • buprenorphine, or naltrexone
  • behavioral therapy
  • individual and group counseling
  • relapse prevention planning
  • family therapy
  • intervention services
  • recovery support groups for prescription opioid use disorder
  • social services (e.g. housing assistance, employment assistance)
  • aftercare support

Find Treatment For Heroin Addiction Today

Recovery from heroin addiction is possible, and it is not a journey you or a loved one has to take alone. By calling our helpline, we can help you explore your addiction treatment options.

Call us today to speak with a specialist about drug addiction treatment or to find a treatment center for yourself or a loved one.


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