Heroin is an extremely addictive drug that is made from the seeds of the poppy plant. Teenage heroin use statistics from 2016 show that about 1000 people aged 12 to 17 had a heroin use disorder. Heroin abuse seems to be declining among teenagers, but it is rising in other age groups, especially in young adults aged 18 to 25.
Parents worried about teen heroin use may want to keep an eye out for heroin paraphernalia. Paraphernalia includes all of the tools and materials that people use in order to prepare and take heroin, whether through snorting, smoking or injecting it.
What Does Heroin Look Like?
There are several different types of heroin which each have different appearances. Each type is also more common in different regions of the United States. White powder heroin is a white, off-white, pinkish, or tan powder that tends to be more common east of the Mississippi River. Black tar heroin may refer to either a hard or gooey substance that is black or dark red or brown. It is typically found more often in the western part of the country. Brown heroin is a powdery drug that may be light to dark brown and also tends to be found in the West.
What about other types of heroin such as cheese heroin? Many slang names refer to heroin that has been mixed with other drugs. Cheese heroin is black tar heroin mixed with over-the-counter cold medicine and looks like a brownish powder. Purple heroin is usually laced with opioid drugs like fentanyl, which may be even more potent and dangerous than heroin.
How Teens Take Heroin
There are several delivery methods that someone might use to take heroin. Overall, the most common method is injection, but new heroin users don’t usually start with this. New users, including teenagers, who aren’t sure how to take heroin will often start by smoking or snorting heroin, because these methods seem easier and less intimidating. Smoking heroin may be the first step for a teen who wants to try this drug, especially if the person is already familiar with smoking other drugs.
Once a person becomes dependent on heroin, they will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms in between uses. In order to make these side effects and cravings go away as quickly as possible, they may turn to injecting. With this delivery method, heroin enters the bloodstream immediately and the effects are felt within a few minutes. Heroin injection sites on a person’s body usually start with veins on the arms, but if damage builds up in these blood vessels a person may switch to injecting into their legs, in between their toes or in their neck. People who inject typically have more serious problems with addiction and have been using heroin for longer. Teens are less likely to inject than adults.
Heroin paraphernalia includes tools that teens use to prepare the drug. For example, if someone is injecting heroin, the substance will need to be dissolved into a liquid first. Paraphernalia also refers to tools that help a teen inject, snort or inhale heroin. Finding paraphernalia may be one of the first signs of heroin use in young adults, although drug use is usually also accompanied by changes in physical and mental health. Heroin paraphernalia includes:
- Spoons, bottle caps & lighters: These items are used for cooking heroin. When people inject heroin, the first step is turning it into a liquid. Powder heroin needs to be dissolved in water, while black tar heroin needs to be melted, or ground up and then dissolved. This usually involves placing the heroin in a spoon, bottle cap or another small rounded object. A person will then add water and heat the mixture with a lighter or candle to cook up heroin. One sign that a teen is injecting is missing spoons. If a spoon with heroin is heated over a flame, it will be permanently burned or discolored. A teen may hide spoons in their room for later use or throw them away once they are damaged. Lighters may also be used to vaporize heroin for smoking.
- Cotton balls: Once heroin is dissolved in liquid, a teen may use a cotton filter to remove any impurities or contaminants that are left behind. This often involves soaking up the liquid with a cotton ball, injecting a needle into the cotton ball and then pulling out the liquid. A teen may also try to reuse the cotton ball in order to make sure they’re getting as much drug as possible back out. These heroin cotton rinses can be dangerous because cotton balls aren’t sterile and reusing them increases a person’s risk of infection. Parents may find heroin-soaked cotton balls in the trash when their teen is injecting. These cotton balls will look dried up and may still contain heroin’s vinegar-like smell.
- Laces, rubber tubing or belts: These materials are often used as a tourniquet for heroin injectors. When a teen wants to inject heroin in the arm, they will tie off their arm above the elbow. This blocks blood flow to the blood vessels below the tourniquet and makes veins jump out so they’re easier to find.
- Hypodermic needles: Drug needles are used to deliver heroin right into the veins once it has been completely dissolved. People who inject often have track marks from heroin. These marks occur when the veins get irritated, inflamed and discolored. Injecting can lead to damage like ulcers and infections. Some who inject heroin also end up with viral infections such as hepatitis C and HIV from sharing needles.
- Aluminum foil: Smoking heroin on foil is a delivery method used by some teens. Someone will place heroin on top of a small square of aluminum foil and heat it underneath to create smoke. Parents who are keeping an eye out for paraphernalia may find crumpled, burnt aluminum foil in the trash.
- Straws, rolled bills, hollow pens: Once heroin is placed on a piece of foil and heated, the smoke can be inhaled through a straw or another hollow object. Rolled paper or a heroin pipe may also be used to smoke the substance. People who know how to snort heroin also often use straws or rolled bills to direct the heroin from a flat surface into their nose. Parents should look out for straws or hollow pens that have been cut into pieces a few inches long.
If a parent finds an object that they suspect might have been used for heroin, they may want to try testing the object with a drug residue test kit. These kits are available online or in drug stores and can detect whether drugs are present on certain surfaces, including clothing. Test kits can often measure heroin as well as many other types of illicit drugs.
Any method of using heroin can be dangerous. Using contaminated paraphernalia often leads to infections and tissue damage. Possessing heroin drug paraphernalia is also a crime in most U.S. states. Even if someone doesn’t have drugs on them, they can often still get arrested for having paraphernalia.
Getting Help for Teen Addiction
Heroin use very quickly leads to physical tolerance and mental dependence. When people try to stop using heroin, they will usually develop severe withdrawal symptoms and have strong cravings to use the drug again. It is very difficult for someone to stop using heroin on their own.
Young people who use heroin can get teen addiction treatment that is specially designed for them. Rehab facilities and treatment programs can help teenagers get counseling that addresses their own individual needs, match them with other people their own age for group therapy or support groups, and provide educational and support resources for their family.
Parents who are worried about teen addiction and who are looking for drug rehab in Florida can turn to Next Generation Village. Our team of experts has training and experience dealing with addiction in young people and can help you and your family learn to cope with drug abuse and recovery. Contact us today to get started on your journey to recovery.
Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.