Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug, and its use has repercussions that extend far beyond the individual user. The medical and social consequences of drug use—such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, fetal effects, crime, violence, and disruptions in family, workplace, and educational environments—have a devastating impact on society and cost billions of dollars each year.
Although heroin use in the general population is rather low, the numbers of people starting to use heroin have been steadily rising since 2007.1This may be due in part to a shift from abuse of prescription pain relievers to heroin as a readily available, cheaper alternative2-5 and the misperception that highly pure heroin is safer than less pure forms because it does not need to be injected.
Like many other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated. Medications are available to treat heroin addiction while reducing drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improving the odds of achieving abstinence. There are now a variety of medications that can be tailored to a person’s recovery needs while taking into account co-occurring health conditions. Medication combined with behavioral therapy is particularly effective, offering hope to individuals who suffer from addiction and for those around them.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has developed this publication to provide an overview of heroin use and its consequences as well as treatment options available for those struggling with heroin addiction. We hope this compilation of scientific information on heroin will help to inform readers about the harmful effects of heroin as well as assist in prevention and treatment efforts.
Nora D.Volkow, M.D.
National Institute on Drug Abuse