Heroin use: Ex-junkie describes the effects of heroin

How do junkies use heroin? Richie Farrell describes heroin use and the possible effects of heroin in this excerpt from his book “What’s Left of Us”. An honest and frank look at heroin use from the mouth of a former heroin addict.

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Heroin use

Heroin is not a cold-shake like cocaine. The impurities used to cut heroin need to be cooked off in boiling water before you shoot it intravenously. Down here we all do it the same, bite the heroin package open carefully, taste it, gag or dry heave on the bitterness, empty the heroin into a cooker, (either a spoon or the bottom of a tonic can), draw 50cc of water into the syringe, fill the cooker until the heroin drowns, and light a match.

After you see tiny bubbles dancing in the cooker you place a small sliver of cotton or a piece of a cigarette’s filter into the liquid. With one hand firmly steadying the cooker, the tip of the needle is guided into the cotton or filter with the other hand. The plunger is moved upward slowly by biting firmly on to the tip and moving the head upwards. If all goes well the syringe fills with about 20cc of heroin. The task of hitting a good vein is next. And nobody down here takes the time to wrap a belt around their arm and whack the skin over a vein. That’s fuckin’ Hollywood. If you make it to where I am– you’re an expert at veins. After contact, you watch your blood snake into the syringe, you pull the trigger, hot liquid moves quickly up your arm, your heart tingles, and you feel an immediate rush of adrenaline guzzle your brain in one swift sip.

The effects of heroin: cotton shot rush

From there it’s a crapshoot. Most addicts don’t carry sterile cotton balls or Q-tips in their back pocket. If you’re lucky you have access to a clean filtered cigarette. But most of the time you have to find a cigarette butt on the ground, in an ashtray, or a garbage barrel. “Cotton shot rush” is perfect example of life as a heroin addict. You live for the moment. If it happens, it happens. But there is no mistaking it when it hits. Ten to twenty minutes after you pull the trigger it whacks you like you’re in the third day of the flu virus. The ears give it away: if they start to ring you’re fucked. Pressure begins to mount on each side of your temple like a vise squeezing slowly together. Sweat pours off your brow but at first there is no temperature associated with it. The shakes progress quickly to trembles. Chills hit immediately after and the body’s temperature spikes to over 102.  Sometimes the brain fogs and things appear that aren’t there. I’m not sure why some cases are more extreme than others. On occasion it can last only an hour, most times it resolves itself within 12 or 24 hours. But if the bacteria takes up residency in your heart and you don’t seek medical attention, you’re dead. I roll the dice about a dozen times a day.


Anyone want to add to this description about heroin use or the effects of heroin?  Just click and comment below.  And if you’re a resident of The Big Apple and you know someone who is hooked on heroin, you can show that you care by bringing that person to the nearest New York heroin addiction treatment center.

About the author
Richie Farrell won the du-Pont-Columbia for directing the HBO documentary film, High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. That film inspired the 2010 major motion picture The Fighter that went on to win academy awards for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Farrell's memoir What’s Left of Us: A Memoir of Addiction has been optioned for a movie and currently in development. Richie Farrell is one of the top substance abuse and motivational speakers in the United States. More Info @ My Heroin Life.


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  1. Please give us advice my nefew is 24 yr old and is a herion addict he still lives at home he dont work he leave spoons and syriges just lying out he steals from his dad and the rest of the family my brother is at the end of his rope he dont know what to do he explodes ant his sun and it gets worse and his son wont go to program what can we do.. Please help…

    1. Hi Teresa. Your nephew may need rehab. I suggest that you stage an intervention with a specialist to help your nephew see his drug problem.

  2. Lorena do u know how your daughter is doing now?I’m curious.I’m an ex junkie of 23 years so I’ve seen what you’re going through many times.

  3. Is dilaudid still a cold shake? Or do they put crap in it now to cause it to bind and be a messed up blob in the cooker?? Thanks

  4. Hi Lorena. I am so sorry for you and your situation. You might want to join the mothers and parents of drug addicts who share their concern, worry and pain on another topic here called: ” Parent of a Drug Addict”.


    Also, I’d encourage you to seek help at Al-Anon in order to start to process your grief and pain. It is possible to set boundaries with the ones that we love, and to not enable their addiction. You are right: if she is not ready to be clean, you can’t do anything. But you do not need to support her, either. Watching your child slowly die from drug addiction is one of the most difficult things that a mother can do.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. She was in a residential facility for over 100 days then just decided to leave all of a sudden. She said she is not ready to stay sober and pretty much told me to stay out of her life, As of yesterday, she is on her own. My fear is that she will turn to prostitution or start injecting,. I don’t know what to do for her, I know she has to be ready but it’s so hard to see your child kill herself slowly with this drug. She had been away from her boyfriend and now they are back together. He doesn’t have a place to live so I don’t know how they will survive.

  6. Hi Lorena. In cases of opiate addiction, some experts recommend 6 to 9 month residential treatment, followed by a halfway house for another year, or so. Do you have the ability to helpl provide this for your daughter? In order to change her life, she needs to really change her life and learn the skills for coping and communication that she probably lacks.

  7. My daughter is 18 and has been smoking black tar heroin for a year. She has been in rehab for 90 days. Her boyfriend is also an addict and my concern is that she will go right back to it after rehab. I know that there is nothing I can do to stop her but any advise would be greatly appreciated.

  8. I was 18 years old when I tried heroin for the first time. I didn’t snort it nor did I smoke it, my boyfriend shot me up… OMG the first thing that I said was” where have you (heroin) been all my life”! I knew at that moment that I was screwed. I had fallen in love, it was too late… That was almost 17 years ago. In 17 years I was only able to stop for 5 months. People would tell me not to worry,that I’ll eventually want to stop…well I’m still waiting! So if anyone out there is thinking of trying heroin,unless you want to devote your whole life to it and spend all your money on it,pass your turn. It’s not worth it, trust me. Junkygirl

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