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Depressants: Opioids

by Dr Mariam Doreen Joseph, Australia

Posted: Friday, June 16, 2000 04:36 PM CST

(Heroin, Morphine, Codeine, Pethidine, Methadone, Opium)
Slang terms: (Smack, Junk, Skag, Shit, 'H', Brown, Horse, Harry, Boy)

Opiates are derived from the dried 'milk' of the opium poppy which contains morphine and codeine, both of which are effective painkillers and are used for many medical uses (both are used in many cough medicines and anti-diarrhoea treatments). Heroin in its pure form is a white powder which is easily soluble in water. There are a number of synthetic opiates which are used as painkillers such as pethidine and methadone which is often prescribed for heroin and opiate addiction. Collectively opiates and synthetic opiates are called opioids. Opioid powders can be swallowed or dissolved in water and injected, particularly into a vein which maximises the effect. Heroin is sometimes sniffed, or the fumes from the heated powder is inhaled (this method is sometimes called 'chasing the dragon'). The large majority of heroin is illegally manufactured and imported, which originates largely from the Indian sub-continent. When sold at street level it is likely to have been diluted or cut with a variety of similar powders. The main dilutant is glucose. However, the practice of using other substances such as caffeine, flour and talcum powder is a constant danger to users. Heroin may cost between £15 and £40 pounds for a wrap.


Opiates / Heroin History 6,000 year old Summerian texts refer to the opium poppy as the 'joy plant'. It is thought Arab traders took opium to China in about the 7th or 8th century A.D. where it was used as a medicine until about the 17th century where it was realised it could be smoked. In later years the Portugese and later the British were supplying China with most of its opium, making Britain (and mainly a company called the East India Company) the world's largest dealer. It was sold in India to be smuggled into China, making it entirely legal from the British side. The Chinese government took to destroying British opium imports before they reached China which eventually sparked two short wars and in the treaties that followed Britain was given Hong Kong, extra trading rights and sixty million pounds in compensation for lost opium stocks. Heroin was created in 1874 and was originally marketed as a safe, non-addictive substitute for morphine. However it was quickly noted that heroin also produced depededancy very quickly in some individuals. Heroin and Opiates were made illegal in 1920 with the Dangreous Drugs Act.


The effect of opiods on the body varies from person to person and it depends on the amount of the drug is taken, the way is taken, bodt's size and weight, previous usage of the drug, taking it with other drugs, person's mood and type of the drug.

Immediate effects of Opioids
The effect can last for 24 hours.

  • relief of pain and anxiety
  • feeling of well-being
  • decreased awareness of outside world
  • drowsiness
  • may cause vomiting, constipation
  • decrease in the blood pressure
  • sowing in the heart rate
  • Long term effects of Opioids
  • physical dependance
  • psychological dependance
  • apathy
  • self neglegt

Prolonged usage can cause physical damage to the body, although not necessarily from the drug itself. Repeated injections with dirty needles can result in diseases such as Hepatitis, AIDS and Tetanus, especially when sharing needles. There is also a risk of using impure drugs which have been mixed with unknown substances. Repeated sniffing of heroin damages the nose.


A sudden withdrawal causes symptoms of discomfort similar to flu. These include aches, sweating and chills, tremor, sneezing and yawning and muscular spasms, all or some of which usually commence between 8 and 24 hours after the last dose of heroin. Although these effects usually fade within 7 to 10 days, feelings of weakness and loss of well being can last for several months.


Overdosing the drug can kill the person,It can cause heart failure, lung failure, Psychosis, mental distribution, delusions, hearing voices and so on.

References. CEIDA - health service/NSW, Australia. Drugs information on websites.

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