Like morphine, heroin is an opioid, a class of painkilling drugs derived from opium harvested from the seeds of poppy plants. Unlike morphine, though, heroin is no longer used in medicine  in the developed world, and is about twice as potent. 
Heroin is sold both as a white or light brown powder and as a black, sticky goo ; the latter is known as “black tar heroin” and is usually imported from Mexico . In the U.S., black tar heroin is the most prevalent form of the drug west of the Mississippi River, while the powder form is most prevalent on the east coast.  No matter which form it comes in, though, most heroin sold on the street has been cut with other drugs or substances like sugar, starch or powdered milk. Because users can’t be sure about the actual strength of the drug, they are more susceptible to overdose. 
+ WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF HEROIN?
Opium use dates back thousands of years; the earliest references to opium use and the cultivation of poppies for this purpose date back to around 3400 BC.  Ancient Greeks, Persians and Egyptians used opium to relieve pain, help people sleep and even calm crying children. They may have also used the drug recreationally and as an anaesthetic during surgery.  The drug eventually spread to the Middle East, India and China. Two wars were fought in the middle of the 19th century between European countries and China that were fuelled in large part by the opium trade. 
In 1803, German scientist Friedrich Serturner first isolated morphine, the active narcotic ingredient in opium. But it was restricted in medical use as a painkiller due to its addictive properties. In 1874, English chemist Alder Wright developed heroin from a morphine base. It was intended to be a safe replacement for morphine, and was even marketed as a cough suppressant for children in the 1890s. However, people continued to become addicted to heroin, and by 1924, it was outlawed in the United States. 
+ HOW DOES HEROIN COMPARE TO OTHER OPIOIDS?
Morphine is the base from which all other opioids are made; in its pure form, it is 10 times stronger than the opium that people had been using for thousands of years.  Heroin is roughly twice as potent as morphine. Other opioids are much stronger, however. Fentanyl can be anywhere from 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine , and carfentanil can be up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine.  Other opioid medications include codeine, hydromorphone and oxycodone. 
+ WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF HEROIN?
Heroin is a depressant and a hallucinogen that affects the central nervous system.  Once ingested, users often experience a “rush” or a “high” of intense pleasure. This state of euphoria lasts about 30 minutes, and is often followed by alternating wakefulness and drowsiness for about three or four hours.  This period of drowsiness can be dangerous, as slow and shallow breathing is a common side effect of heroin and it can take effect while the user is asleep.  
Other short-term effects of heroin use include constricted pupils, nausea, low blood pressure, muscle spasms and convulsions. Long-term effects include collapsed veins, abscesses, and the inflammation of the heart’s lining and valves. 
+ WHAT CAN BE DONE IF SOMEONE OVERDOSES ON HEROIN?
The first and most important step to take if someone is overdosing on heroin is to call 9-1-1. If the person is unconscious or losing consciousness, you can try to call their name or get a response. But if they are not responding, carefully turn them on their side to prevent them from choking on their vomit and to facilitate breathing until help arrives. If you are trained to do so, you may be able to administer first aid and/or CPR if necessary. 
As with fentanyl, another opioid drug, naloxone can reverse the effects of heroin use. These kits are available through pharmacies and walk-in clinics throughout Alberta.