Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin use continues on, even as the deadly drug continues to claim lives. In 2015, more Americans died from heroin overdoses than gun violence.

Use of the highly addictive opioid has increased in recent years among most demographic groups, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That includes men and women, most age groups, and people across income levels. Women, people with private insurance, and those with higher incomes have seen the greatest increases in heroin use, the CDC reports.

While heroin certainly isn’t new, its profile has heightened as it has contributed to an unprecedented public health emergency that has been called the worst in U.S. history.

The question, “Where does heroin come from?”, may have crossed minds because of all the news that has unfolded in recent years. To answer that question, we look at how heroin is made, where it is made in the world, and how global production of the drug is affecting the U.S.

How Heroin Is Made

Heroin, also known as “diamorphine,” is an illegal opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine using man-made methods. Morphine, a naturally occurring substance, is extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant.

It is a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S., which means it has a high potential for abuse and been found to have no accepted medical use. Heroin was produced in the late 1800s by German pharmaceutical company Bayer. Back then, it was marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis and a remedy for morphine addiction, explains DrugFreeWorld.org. Over time, it became apparent that heroin was more addictive than morphine.

Street Names For Heroin

According to Heroin.net, street names for heroin came about from hiding trade activity and sales of the drug from law enforcement. Dealers and heroin addicts tend to change out names over the years though a few remain in regular use. Some of those are “Big H,” “China white,” “dope” “Mexican Tar,” “smack,” “snow,” “White Girl,” “White Nurse,” among many others. It is important to know the street names for heroin because the slang can give clues as to what the drug mixture is made of as well its toxicity. Street names also can alert observers as to whether their loved one is battling heroin addiction.

Heroin is three times stronger than morphine, according to Heroin.net, and users consume it in a number of ways. Popular ways include injecting, snorting, or smoking it. The highs are stronger when it is injected or smoked, but snorting it has resulted in overdose for some users.

There are different kinds of heroin as well, like black heroin, white heroin, brown heroin, and tar heroin, and all come with different purity levels and risks. Other additives, such as sugars, caffeine, flour, starch, powdered milk, and quinine can be added to the white or brownish powder, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Many of these can clog blood vessels that lead to vital organs like the lungs, liver, kidneys and the brain, which can result in permanent damage.

Other stronger drugs, such as fentanyl, can be added, making heroin deadlier. The synthetic opioid is found to be 100 times stronger than morphine, which is the substance heroin returns to when it enters the body quickly and binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, which regulate feelings of pain and pleasure. Mixing heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing, also can be dangerous and deadly.

Too much heroin can lead to an overdose. Heroin users’ breathing slows or stops, which can affect oxygen flow to the brain. If the person survives the overdose, the effects can result in permanent brain damage or a coma, or worse, death. Naloxone, an overdose medication, is given to people who overdose on heroin right away.

“Where Does Heroin Come From?”: The Answers Lie Outside The U.S.

Tracing the origins of heroin to find out where it comes from and produced, is a different question altogether and requires a look at a world map.

Much of the heroin used in the U.S. is not made there, so other countries are meeting demand for it, authorities said. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2015 Drug Threat Assessment Report, Mexico is the primary supplier for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The drug is also entering the United States from Colombia, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia.

Researchers Study Geographic Origins Of Heroin

According to a September 2017 Miami Herald article, federal authorities are working with researchers at Florida International University’s International Forensic Research Institute to study the geographic origins of seized heroin to determine which regions they should be focused on so they can act quickly in targeting those countries and take law enforcement action.

Researchers studied heroin samples from four distinct geographic regions to find undetected chemical markers, such as radiogenic strontium isotopes, that could help tell them apart, the Miami Herald reports.

“We demonstrated, for the first time, that strontium can be used as a chemical marker for geography and geology to differentiate heroin samples from different geographic regions,” said Jose Almirall, the institute’s director and lead investigator of the study, said in a news release, according to the Miami Herald.

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