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Uppers, Downers & All Points in Between

Chasing the Dragon:
A Hard Look Into Heroin Use
Author: César León

Heroin is an opiate, a drug having a sedative or 
narcotic effect. Derived from opium, heroin is created 
from the dried milk of the poppy plant. The poppy 
plant is commonly grown in the regions of Afghanistan 
and Pakistan. 
Heroin is mostly used as a “get away” drug, says 
Heather Meschery, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz 
County Needle Exchange Program. It is considered 
a “get away” drug because it 
affects the nervous system in a way that makes 
everything seem slow and relaxing; it’s a way to 
escape. This is why runaways, kids from broken homes 
and people that need something to help 
them cope with their everyday lives find themselves 
especially vulnerable to this drug. “But there are as 
many different reasons for using heroin as there are 
people,” says Heather about who 
takes heroin and why.
There are three ways of using heroin: shooting up, 
snorting and smoking. Most people start off by smoking 
it, which is called “chasing the dragon.” Despite what 
most people think, smoking and snorting heroin is just 
as addictive as shooting up. 
With regular and continued usage, your body will grow 
to depend on it. Once addicted, the body adapts to the 
presence of the drug and severe withdrawal symptoms 
usually occur when the drug is no longer used.  That’s 
why heroin is a hard drug habit to kick. Some of the 
side effects of quitting are diarrhea, nausea, 
headaches, inability to sleep or relax, throwing up, 
tremors and 
muscle cramps. It takes about 4-5 days to kick the 
physical addiction. The mental addiction, the 
lifestyle and the habits can take anywhere from a few 
months to a lifetime to overcome.
The true amount of pure heroin found in what is 
commonly bought on the streets varies. Most street 
bought heroin is about five percent to eight percent 
pure. In Watsonville the amount is 
usually less; around three percent pure. The rest of 
it is junk, sometimes even crap (literally). 
Dealers always cut or mix pure heroin with other 
things. There are two main reasons for this: 100 
percent pure heroin would kill the user, and dirt, 
unlike heroin, is free. Other substances such 
as rat poison, dehydrated milk, dirt, tar and feces 
(yes, crap) are commonly mixed with heroin. Heather 
told us that, a while back, a Santa Cruz dealer was 
adding ground-up glass to the heroin he was selling. 
That is messed up in my book. As Tom Hanks said in the 
movie Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, 
you never know what you’re going to get.” This is one 
of the reasons so many people overdose on heroin.
A “rig” is the most common name for the syringe used 
for shooting heroin. The “works” is used to describe 
all the pieces needed to shoot heroin: the needle, 
cotton, cooker and the 
tourniquet (or tie-off which is used to reduce blood 
circulation to make finding a vein easier). 
Street names for heroin 
include “chiva,” “smack,” “H,” “Charlie,” and “Horse.” 
White heroin is found mostly on the east coast and 
black heroin is more commonly found in the west. 
Though they look different, they both have the same 
effect on the mind and body.
While researching this article, I had the opportunity 
to talk to Jane, an ex-heroin addict whose real name 
has been changed for the purpose of maintaining her 
anonymity. Jane gave me an 
insight into the ups and downs of heroin usage. I 
asked Jane about her life while she was using. “I know 
what it’s like to be close to death,” she says. “I 
overdosed a number of times and 
lost a lot of close friends and partners to the drug.” 
When Jane said this, I realized that there are a lot 
of kids out there using heroin and they don’t know 
what they're doing. They may have seen a couple of 
movies and have friends that do it, 
but that doesn’t mean that they are being safe and 
know how not to die. 
I asked Jane if she had any final words or advice to 
give teens who are thinking about trying heroin. Her 
reply, “Don’t do it. You don’t want to f--k with this 
drug. It’s not worth it.”