Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs there is: It is highly addictive and those addicted to it will do about anything to get a dose when they need it. However, it is also similar enough to some popular painkillers that people with serious medical conditions end up getting hooked on heroin through their dependency on one of its derivatives.
The stringent government control over heroin – in addition to the negative view that society has of the drug – can lead to serious legal problems if you have been accused of having Heroin, selling heroin, or manufacturing Heroin. Having a skilled California drug defense attorney like William Kroger at your side if you have been charged with a drug crime involving heroin can make a huge difference.What is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug that is derived from an opium plant and is similar to the painkiller morphine. In fact, chemically, heroin is the byproduct of a mixture of morphine – which comes from an opium poppy plant – and other acids. The process separates the two drugs in the opium plant, codeine and morphine, and adds a compound to the morphine. The result is an extremely potent derivative of morphine, heroin.
Once made, heroin can take several forms. Typically, it is a very fine white or light brown powder. However, if the chemical processes used to make heroin were poorly done, the resulting impurities in the drug can leave it sticky or rock hard, as well as much darker in color. This impure type of heroin is called black tar heroin.
Heroin was first made by a pharmaceutical company, Bayer, in the 1890s. It was actually marketed as a substitute for morphine that was supposed to be non-addictive and was supposed to suppress coughing. It was not until 1924 that federal law prohibited its use, manufacture, and sale. It has since been added to the Controlled Substance Schedule as a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for only the most dangerous drugs.Effects of Heroin
People who use heroin and are addicted to it label it as their drug of choice because of the intense and euphoric rush that it creates. This rush can last a few hours, though the intensity and duration depend on the administration method, the amount of heroin used, and the purity of the drug. In addition to this warm, euphoric rush, users can experience other effects including:
- Dry mouth
- A warm feeling on their skin
- Severe itching
- Heightened sensitivity in their extremities
- Nausea and vomiting
- A feeling that their extremities are heavy
These initial symptoms are followed by a drop off period that can last several more hours. During this downtime, common effects include:
- Mental haze or cloudiness
- Decreased heart rate
- Slowed breathing
In some cases, the breath rate of users slows to such an extreme that their body fails to capture enough oxygen to sustain basic functions. This can be life-threatening, and the lack of oxygen in the brain can lead to a coma or permanent brain damage.
Accidentally overdosing is also easy to do with heroin. The different purities in the drug can cause someone to take the amount they normally take, but overdose because the drug is more pure than normal. These differing purities can also pose a problem when a mixture has less heroin and more additives. Heroin dealers frequently add things like flour, sugar, or powdered milk to a batch of heroin to increase its weight and volume, and therefore its value. When these additives are taken in, they can cause blood clots that can damage an unsuspecting user's internal organs.
Addiction is also very easy with heroin because of the rushing experience that its users feel. However, heroin also quickly develops a tolerance – much quicker than with other addictive drugs. Users quickly need more and more heroin to get the same rush that they are used to getting, putting them into a difficult bind where they are racing to satisfy urges that increasingly become more and more intense, demanding, and difficult to appease.How is Heroin Used?
Because the effects of heroin are more intense when it is added to the bloodstream quickly, the preferred method of use for addicts is direct injection into a vein. This requires dissolving the drug into a liquid and injecting the liquid into a vein with a needle and syringe. Depending on the nature of the heroin being used, though, even dissolving the drug can pose a risk: while heroin can come in a salt form that only requires water, heroin base needs an acidic additive – like lemon juice – and heat in order to dissolve for injection.
Injecting heroin, of course, comes with complications and further dangers. Sharing needles helps spread the HIV virus, infecting many heroin users with AIDS. Long-term users also have are harder time finding a vein to inject, as the easily accessible veins in their arms collapse from repeated use. This pushes users into more difficult and dangerous veins for injection, like the femoral artery in their groin.
Because it produces the quickest route to the bloodstream, injection is the most popular method of using heroin. However, other administration methods include:
- Smoking. Users can heat heroin to the point that it vaporizes, and then inhale the fumes.
- Snorting. When in a powder form, heroin can be inhaled into the nose. There, it gets absorbed into the sinus and passes into the bloodstream.
- Oral. Heroin can also be taken orally. However, the transfer into the bloodstream is relatively slow, drastically reducing the intensity of the rush and making oral administration rare.
Because of its intensely addictive nature and the fact that there are no modern medical uses for it, heroin is on the Controlled Substances Act. There, it is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for only the most addictive and dangerous drugs that have no medical use to them. As a controlled substance, heroin can only be possessed with a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and cannot be sold, trafficked, or manufactured without breaking both federal and California law.Heroin Possession
It is illegal to possess heroin, even for personal use, in the state of California. California Health and Safety Code 11350 prohibits the possession of a whole list of controlled substances if you do not have a prescription from a licensed medical professional. Heroin is one of them.
In most cases, a criminal charge for heroin possession is a misdemeanor in California. While just a misdemeanor, though, the penalties are significant: Up to a year in jail and fines of up to $20,000.
However, if you have a criminal background that includes either a sex crime requiring your registration on the sex offender list or an eligible felony like murder or rape, you could face felony charges for possession of heroin. A conviction on these charges would subject you to between two and four years in jail and the $20,000 fine.
Misdemeanor charges, though, do come with the possibility of a drug diversion program rather than jail time. Participating in a diversion program can keep you out of jail, but it does come with risks. Talking with a skilled drug defense attorney can help you understand what your best option is, and why.Possession of High Quantities of Heroin
In an attempt to cut down on drug abuse, law enforcement in America has targeted drug transactions – the buying and selling of drugs – as a way to maximize their efforts. One aspect of this effort has been to single out people who possess large amounts of an illegal drug like heroin with higher penalties for a conviction.
Two statutes of California's Health and Safety Code show this effort, in action. 11351 prohibits the possession of heroin for the purposes of sale, while 11370.4 outlines the amounts of heroin that can lead to deeper legal problems for someone convicted of possession.
The additional jail sentence outlined in 11370.4 begins when someone is arrested and charged with possession of more than one kilogram of heroin – more than 2.2 pounds:
|Amount of Heroin||Additional Jail Time||Statute|
|More than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds)||3 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(1)|
|More than 4 kilograms (8.82 pounds)||5 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(2)|
|More than 10 kilograms (22.05 pounds)||10 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(3)|
|More than 20 kilograms (44.09 pounds)||15 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(4)|
|More than 40 kilograms (88.18 pounds)||20 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(5)|
|More than 80 kilograms (176.37 pounds)||25 extra years||HS 11370.4(a)(6)|
If you have been charged with possession, sales or transportation of heroin – no matter how much of it you are accused of having – you need a skilled drug defense lawyer to advocate on your behalf. William Kroger can help. As one of Los Angeles' leading drug defense attorneys, he can help you beat the charges you are facing and get an outcome that you can live with. Contact him online or call his Los Angeles law office at 323-655-5700.