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Injection poses the greatest risk of lethal overdose by enabling large amounts of heroin (and additional contaminants if any) into the bloodstream at once.

Smoking and snorting heroin can also result in overdose, especially if a non-tolerant user ingests a large amount of potent heroin and/or combines it with other depressant drugs, such as alcohol.

Drug policies must be grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Heroin Facts

Drug Policy Alliance

Symptoms of a heroin overdose include slow and shallow breathing, convulsions, coma and possibly death. To avoid fatal overdose, it is strongly recommended that people who use heroin (and their peers and loved ones) be trained to administer naloxone, an overdose reversal drug that has been approved by the FDA since 1971.

Street heroin is rarely pure and may range from a white to dark brown powder of varying consistency. Such differences typically reflect the impurities remaining from the manufacturing process and/or the presence of additional substances. These "cuts" are often sugar, starch, powdered milk and occasionally other drugs, which are added to provide filler.

Heroin Facts

NIAAA recently launched the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. This online tool helps you find the right treatment for you — and near you. It guides you through a step-by-step process to finding a highly qualified professional treatment provider. Learn more at alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov

Harm Reduction, Injecting Drug Use 101, Guide to Cleaning Used Syringes

Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment (works) to inject drugs puts people at high risk for getting or transmitting HIV and other infections. People who inject drugs account for about 1 in 10 HIV diagnoses in the United States. The best way to reduce the risk of getting or transmitting HIV through injection drug use is to stop injecting drugs. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find a treatment center. If you continue injecting drugs, never share needles or works.

If you continue injecting drugs, never share needles or works. Many communities have syringe services programs (SSPs) where you can get free sterile needles and syringes and safely dispose of used ones. They can also refer you to substance use disorder treatment and help you get tested for HIV and hepatitis. Contact your local health department or North American Syringe Exchange Network (NASEN) to find an SSP. Also, some pharmacies may sell needles without a prescription.


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It's important to use condoms (rubbers, prophylactics) to help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These diseases include the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, and syphilis. You can get them through having sex -- vaginal, anal, or oral.

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