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What Is Synthetic Heroin?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 7, 2019

Synthetic heroin is an umbrella term used to describe a number of drugs that work similarly to heroin. Using synthetic heroin can put people at an increased risk for overdose.

Heroin is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that is playing a major role in the opioid epidemic that has swept the nation. This drug is typically much stronger than prescription opioids and easier to obtain.

Heroin is one of the most widely abused opioids, in part due to its low cost and availability on the street. Heroin is derived from morphine and then synthesized. When used, heroin is then converted back into morphine in the brain.

Because of its increasing popularity, sellers of heroin have begun creating something called synthetic heroin. This tends to be cheaper and easier to make. However, synthetic heroin can be incredibly powerful and dangerous when used.

Understanding Synthetic Heroin

Synthetic heroin can be many things, all of which are not actually heroin. Whereas heroin is derived from the poppy plant, synthetic heroin is man-made and contains no opium.

The term synthetic heroin is used to describe a number of different drugs. These can include substances like Dilaudid, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. Another synthetic form of heroin is carfentanil.

Synthetic heroin can also be used to describe prescription opioids that act in a similar way to heroin in the body. Any form of synthetic heroin can be dangerous if not used with caution.

Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous synthetic form of heroin that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. People who believe they are using heroin but are actually using fentanyl can be at a much higher risk for overdose. Even just a small amount of fentanyl mixed with heroin can be dangerous.

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Carfentanil, another synthetic form of heroin, is a drug used in the sedation of large animals. It is an estimated 100 times stronger than fentanyl, making it up to 10,000 more potent than morphine. One grain of carfentanil can result in overdose and death in humans.

How Does Synthetic Heroin Work?

Synthetic heroin works similarly to heroin in that it binds to the opioid receptors and blocks pain. It also can elicit feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and sleepiness.

Using synthetic heroin comes with the same risks as using pure heroin. These risks include tolerance, physical and mental dependence, addiction, and overdose. Some forms of synthetic heroin come with a greater chance for these risks.

What Does Synthetic Heroin Look Like?

How synthetic heroin will look depends on the type of drug it is. For example, some synthetic heroin can look exactly like actual heroin and is sometimes even mixed with pure heroin.

Others synthetic types of heroin-like fentanyl may be in the form of patches, pills, tablets, or lollipops.

Many people buy heroin thinking that it is pure but it is actually laced with synthetic heroin-like fentanyl.

Getting Treatment For Heroin Addiction

Many people who are addicted to heroin will need to undergo formal treatment to successfully recover. Most individuals will need to begin with a medically monitored detox program to withdraw from the drug.

Inpatient treatment programs have proven successful in the treatment of drug addiction. Many inpatient programs incorporate both medication and behavioral therapies to treat heroin addiction.

To learn more about synthetic heroin and the treatment options available for heroin addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

FRANK - Synthetic Opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Fentanyl

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Synthetic Opioid Overdose Data

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