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Findings from the same study suggest that the lifetime prevalence of heroin use is similar, with around 2% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reporting past use of heroin at some point in their life.
In its pure form, heroin is derived from the seeds of poppy plants and is distributed in two primary forms: powder and solid.3,4 The color of these substances can range anywhere from pure white to black, depending on its theoretical purity.
What Is White Heroin?
The most pure sources of heroin can sometimes be found on the illicit market in white powdered form. This white powder commonly has a high degree of acidity and is known as "white heroin."3,5
Despite common perception, white heroin doesn't necessarily indicate high purity. In fact, it is not uncommon for heroin to be cut with an additive substance, which can altar the color of the compound.6
"China White" is also a term for a heroin that is highly sought after for its powerful effects. While the powder indeed appears white, it should not be mistaken for being pure heroin, as it is actually a mixture of heroin and Fentanyl, a potent prescription narcotic.
This dangerous drug combo, 100 times stronger than heroin alone, is what makes "China White" powerful enough to be making the news with its death tolls.
Although the availability of pure, uncut heroin is relatively rare from street dealers, there has been some suggestion that the availability of pure heroin may be becoming more common.2
How White Heroin Is Used
White powder heroin may be used in a variety of ways in order to get high, which are described in more detail below. These different methods of administration are generally chosen based on their speed of impact – or how quick the onset of the drug's desired effect.7
- Intravenous Injection – 7 to 8 seconds until effects felt. White powdered heroin may be combined with water to create a solution that can be injected directly into the vein ("shooting up" or "digging").
- Intramuscular Injection – 5 to 10 minutes until effects felt. Similar to the intravenous, a solution made from white heroin powder can be injected directly into the muscle.
- Subcutaneous Injection – About 20 minutes until effects felt. Heroin powder can also be injected under the outer layer of the skin ("skin popping").
- Nasal Insufflation – 10 to 15 minutes until effects felt. Powdered heroin can be administered through the nose ("snorting," "banging" or "railing"). Absorption is rapid through the nasal mucous membrane and in the bloodstream.
- Smoking/Inhaling – 10 to 15 minutes until effects felt. A freebase form of the drug may be created from white powdered heroin and then heated on aluminum foil to create smoke and vapors. The vapors may be inhaled. Alternatively, the drug may also be rolled into a cigarette and smoked with tobacco.
- Rectal – 10 to 15 minutes until effects felt. While it is not very common, white powdered heroin can be inserted into the rectum where it is absorbed through the rectal membrane. This is known as "plugging" and is regarded as a safe alternative to injecting the drug.
- Oral – More than 30 minutes until effects felt. White powdered heroin can be taken orally in the mouth. However, there are individuals who report that they do not get an intense rush from the high with this method of administration.
The Dangers of White Heroin Powder
Getting high from heroin can be an intensely pleasurable – and even euphoric – experience. A heroin high can provide the individual with temporary relief from both physical and psychological sensations of pain. Despite these initial draws, there are a number of dangers associated with using heroin.
Heroin is associated with a very high risk of its user becoming dependent upon the drug.2,8 Repeated use of the drug is associated with the development of tolerance to its effects, meaning that the individual will continue to need more and more of the substance in order to achieve the desired high.5
Individuals who have repeatedly used heroin are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms upon trying to stop using the drug. These symptoms can be quite uncomfortable and distressing, which may motivate the individual to use again in order to get relief.
Heroin causes short-term and long-term damage in both the brain and in the body that go beyond the immediate addiction and withdrawal symptoms. The bodily harm that heroin causes can greatly reduce quality of life and in many cases can cause premature death.
Other Life Risks
This physical dependency upon heroin and need for continued use can then lead to additional problems, including trouble at work or school, difficulty with friends and family members, financial strain and even other health problems not directly due to heroin.2,8
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vital Signs: Demographic and Substance Use Trends Among Heroin Users – United States, 2002-2013. 2015.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Heroin.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: World Drug Report 2014.
- Ciccarone D. Heroin in brown, black, and white: Structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market. Int J Drug Policy 2009;20(3):277-282.
- Stephens RC. The street addict role: A theory of heroin addiction. 1991 Suny Press. Albany, NY.
- S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency: Drugs of Abuse.
- Hughes PH, Barker NW, Crawford GA, Jaffe JH. The natural history of a heroin epidemic. Am J Public Health 1972;62(7):995-1001.