Heroin is a synthetic derivative of opium, the thick liquid that is released by the poppy plant when it is cut in its early bulb stages. Opium contains a significant amount of morphine and heroin is produced with that morphine. Poppy production and subsequent harvesting for illegal use is most frequently found in the Middle East and especially Afghanistan. South America has a very small poppy production trade as well. Poppy plants are legal to grow in many countries; however the extraction of their juice for medicinal or illegal narcotic purposes is not.
Opium, while the basis of a very dangerous and illegal narcotic – heroin – is also used for medicinal purposes around the world. Interestingly, many prescription drugs, called opiates, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Demerol and Codeine are synthetic versions of opium. Opiates have, for a long time, been used to help fight pain in patients who may have had significant accidents or trauma. Their use is still widespread today.
The drug, once consumed, converts into morphine in the brain and attaches to opiate receptors. These receptors control pain and reward systems in the brain and body. Opiates are also easily abused by those who receive it without a prescription. While synthetic opiates such as the pain medications listed above are legal, they have very strict use guidelines. Many who are on opiate medication over the long-term can become addicted to the pill and abuse the drug. Heroin is not legal in any form as it is extremely addictive and dependence can often occur much more quickly than in other hard drugs.
Opiates and heroin use and abuse leads to serious behavioral changes as well as long term problems. Cognitive and physical functions will be impaired significantly. Those who take heroin describe a sense of euphoria in the beginning, however this feeling fades and subsides as the abuse continues. After short- and long-term use, heroin can cause many physical and psychological issues.
Detoxification and withdrawal from heroine is extreme and requires qualified and licensed professionals to oversee it. Whether legal or not opiates are extremely addictive and can be dangerous for those who do not use them as prescribed. When possible, avoiding any and all opiates, in the form of heroin or prescription pills, is the most effective way to avoid abuse and addiction.