What does heroin mean


Short kick and "golden shot"

Heroin was developed as a drug in the 19th century, was only banned in the middle of the 20th century and then began its career as a drug - repeatedly used by musicians and stars.

In the brain, the substance docks to the receptors that are actually reserved for the body's own endorphins. It thus reduces the sensation of pain and has a euphoric effect.

It starts with a short, intense "kick" that turns into a long-lasting feeling of complete satisfaction. Mental activity is subdued, especially negative feelings, worries and fears are suppressed.

If the dosage is too high, however, breathing control in the brain stem can come to a standstill - the "golden shot" then leads to death by suffocation. He caught Janis Joplin on October 4, 1970, Jim Morrison on July 3, 1971, and Kurt Cobain on April 5, 1994.

But the history of heroin goes back a lot further than to Janis Joplin. The fabric was first produced in 1874. It was marketed as a pain reliever and cough suppressant and also touted as an alternative and withdrawal drug to opium. It wasn't until later that it was discovered that heroin was actually even more addicting than this.

Still, the Bayer pharmaceutical company sold heroin on a large scale until 1931, as a remedy for pretty much every evil from asthma to depression. And even after that you could still buy some heroin in pharmacies, it was only banned in Germany in 1971 - and thus became an illegal drug.

From opium poppy to synthesis

Heroin is one of the semi-synthetic drugs, it is produced by processing naturally obtained opium. It starts with opium poppy fields, most of them in Afghanistan.

The white juice of the opium poppy is the source material. It emerges when the immature seed pods are scratched. The farmers let this milky juice dry on the capsule in order to harvest a dark colored mass: the raw opium. Morphine, codeine and thebaine are its active ingredients.

Heroin is obtained from the extracted morphine through chemical processing: an acetyl group is attached to the morphine molecules. This creates a molecule with the molecular formula C21H23NO5 and the chemical name diacetylmorphine: heroin.

In its pure form it is a white, crystalline powder. Its effect is many times stronger than that of morphine.

The global opium harvest in 2014 was just under 7,400 tons, estimates the World Drug Report of the United Nations (UN). About half of this is processed into heroin, several hundred tons of the white powder are the annual result.

In Europe, this refined material in its pure form achieves between 150 and 200 euros per gram, of which only cents remain with the farmers.

But for the end user, the powder is stretched, the purity is only around 30 percent and fluctuates. It is precisely the varying purity content that makes it difficult for addicts to estimate the correct amount - this is another reason for overdosing.

Inhale, sniff, fixate

At the same time, addicts soon develop a tolerance for the drug: While a few milligrams are enough to start with, junkies need many times more later to achieve the same effect.

The substance is either vaporized and inhaled, alternatively sniffed through the nose as a fine powder similar to cocaine or, thirdly, injected intravenously as a solution in acid and water. This last form is also referred to as "fixed".

Sharing the same syringes carries the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. In addition, the diluents can cause poisoning. The "sniffing" through the nose, on the other hand, attacks the mucous membranes and can lead to perforation of the nasal septum.

Germany's most famous drug addict

Heroin addiction reached its first peak in Germany in the early 1970s, according to the Institute for Therapy Research. Christiane Felscherinow, better known as Christiane F., was also one of the addicts, at the age of 14.

In 1978 her story was published in the magazine "Stern", and a short time later her autobiographical book "Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo". Since then she has been Germany's most famous drug addict. The book and its film adaptation in 1981 confronted the general public for the first time with the drug scene in major German cities.

A second wave of heavy heroin use followed in the early 1990s. Since then, however, the numbers have dropped significantly, even if no one can say exactly how many addicts there are.

According to the drug and addiction report of the federal government, around 1,650 first-time users were registered in 2014. The number has been falling for years, but the number of first-time users of other illegal drugs is steadily increasing.

The heaviest addiction

"We children from Bahnhof Zoo" does not spare the withdrawal symptoms: from the first restlessness to sweating, tremors, weakness to body aches, circulatory disorders and breakdowns. And this is only the physical side, plus the vaguely definable psychological withdrawal feelings.

Christiane Felscherinow has repeatedly renounced heroin - and yet has relapsed again and again. She took the substitute drug methadone for a long time, but in 2008 the media reported that she had become addicted again. It seems like she is a living example of the textbook wisdom: Heroin addiction is the most serious addiction.