Heroin is a highly addictive, semi-synthetic drug extracted from the opium poppy. Heroin quality and consistency varies, from the white powder commonly found on the East Coast of the United States to the thick, black tar heroin increasingly popular on the West Coast, as noted on the Saanich Police website in 2007. While powdered heroin is commonly snorted or injected, black tar heroin is often smoked, a method of ingestion users call "chasing the dragon."
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A common method of smoking heroin is to use a sheet of aluminum foil and a straw. The user holds the straw in his mouth and ignites a lighter underneath the foil. As the heroin melts, it produces a white smoke and runs down the sheet of foil. The user inhales the smoke through the straw, "chasing" the heroin with the lighter as it liquefies and runs down the foil. Sheets of foil with burn marks on the bottom and black lines on the top are giveaways that a person is smoking heroin. Sometimes, the stem of a ball-point pen is used instead of a straw. Finding disassembled pens among the person's belongings may also be a sign that he is smoking heroin.
Coughing and Hoarseness
Heroin smokers often exhibit a hacking cough that can lead to asthma. It is not uncommon for young people who have smoked heroin, particularly black tar heroin, to end up requiring nebulizers--machines that clear the lungs with medication and hot steam to help them breathe. Because powdered heroin is often rolled into cigarettes, the excess tar and nicotine intake can exacerbate this cough. A hoarse, raspy voice is a common side effect of smoking both cigarettes and heroin. A person who is smoking heroin may cough up blood, suddenly increase usage of cough medications and throat sprays, or have difficulty speaking in her normal voice.
Smoking heroin produces an immediate rush that leads to extreme lethargy. The user's arms and legs feel heavy, and his eyes may appear to roll back in his head. This effect is called "nodding," because the user will frequently allow his head to fall and then catch it with a jerk. A person who is nodding alternates between states of sleepiness and wakefulness. He may literally fall asleep in his food. Nodding lasts for several hours after smoking heroin and is sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting, particularly if the person has not been using heroin for long. Because heroin depresses the central nervous system, a person who is nodding may exhibit very shallow breathing.