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Heroin History

Heroin is an addictive drug, and heroin addiction is a serious problem in America. This article contains information on heroin history, founders of heroin, heroin uses, heroin effects, major producers of heroin, street names for heroin, and heroin statistics.


Recent studies suggest a shift from injecting heroin to snorting or smoking because of increased purity and the misconception that these forms are safer.

Heroin is the most addictive plant-derived drug.

In 1805 a German pharmacist, Frederick W. Serturner isolated morphine from opium, finding that the isolated compound was 10 times as strong as the original drug. Then in 1874, a British chemist C.R. Alder Wright refined heroin from morphine, in an attempt to find an effective painkiller without the addictive properties of morphine. Not much was done with the new drug until 1898 when an employee of Bayer and Company promoted heroin for medical purposes such as:

  • Coughs
  • Chest Pain
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pneumonia

Unfortunately, heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier in a rapid and dramatic fashion. Therefore, the rush and euphoria from this drug comes on fast and intense. This caused a subculture of compulsive heroin users in the twentieth century. In fact, estimates suggest that around one million people abused opium, morphine and heroin shortly after the turn of the century.

The development of the hypodermic needle in 1853 increased the drugs use. Initially opiate’s were inserted just under the skin by injecting them subcutaneously. However, users found that intravenous use placed high concentrations of the drug directly into the bloodstream through the veins. 

  • It takes 15-30 seconds for an injected opiate to affect the central nervous system. 
  • A delay of 5-8 minutes occurs when injected just under the skin (subcutaneously) this is known as 
    • Skin popping 
    • Muscling

The waves of immigrants from Europe introduced the habit of snorting heroin known as “sniffing” also called “insufflation and intranasal use”. This method of use places the drug into the nasal capillaries and then the central nervous system in about 5-8 minutes. Moreover heroin addicts were split evenly between “sniffers and shooters” until around the 1920’s.

Currently there are an estimated 120,000 to 800,000 heroin abusers and approximately 3.1 million Americans have tried heroin. In the United States most heroin comes from Mexico and Colombia. In addition, the U.S. consumes only 3% of the world’s supply.

The major producers of heroin are:

  • The Golden Crescent •Southwest Asian heroin from Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan is known as “Persian brown” or “Perze” and can be more than 90% pure
  • The Golden Triangle - the second largest producer and exporter of heroin produces what is known as China White and can be up to 99% pure.
  • Mexico - Since the 1940’s Mexico has been a major supplier of heroin in the United States producing light or dark brown heroin. In the 1980’s a new form of Mexican heroin known as “Tar” or “Black Tar” took over a large part of the market.
    • Tar Heroin is potent, 40 to 80% pure, containing more impurities than the Asian refinement of the drug and costs around $20 to $25 for a small chunk.
      • Tar Heroin is sold as a gummy pasty substance rather than in the usual powder form. It dissolves readily in water and is more likely to be smoked. It is also called:
        • Chapapote
        • Puta
        • Goma
        • Chiva
        • Puro

Some street names for Heroin include:

  • H
  • Smack
  • Junk
  • Horse
  • Fix
  • Dope
  • Brown
  • Dog
  • Nod
  • China White
  • Black Tar
  • AIP
  • Al Capone
  • Antifreeze
  • Big doodig
  • China cat
  • Hard candy
  • Witch hazel
  • Tootsie roll

The History of Heroin Sources:

  • Uppers, Downers All Arounders, Darrl S Inaba ‘Executive officer Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, San Francisco CA.’, William E. Cohen, ‘Haight Ashbury Detox Clinic’

Related Article: Opiates and Their History >>

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