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Heterocyclic compound, a highly addictive alkaloid derivative of morphine (chemically, it is diacetylmorphine) that makes up a large portion of illicit narcotics traffic. Easily made from morphine, it was developed and first used as an analgesic, but its undesirable effects outweighed its value, and it is illegal in most countries. Injection brings an ecstatic, warm, glowing sensation, followed by relaxation and contentment. Within half a day withdrawal symptoms set in, with a craving for more. Development of tolerance, requiring ever greater amounts for the same effects, leads to drug addiction. Illegal street heroin is usually only 2–5% pure; unwitting injection of relatively pure heroin is a major cause of overdose, resulting in depressed respiration, coma, and death.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on heroin, visit Britannica.com.