Is heroin a narcotic?

Yes, heroin is an illicit narcotic drug. More on the legal and medical status of heroin here.

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Yes, heroin is an illicit narcotic drug. It is one of the strongest opiates available and, as such, it is considered a Scheduled I controlled substance in the United States.

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What is a narcotic? (legal)

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) narcotics are addictive drugs that have a high risk potential of being abused. These drugs are made illegal as they increase certain types of brain activity and result in impaired judgment the consequences of which can be fatal, let alone the risk of abuse and overdose. Schedule I narcotics, like heroin, have no medical use in the U.S. and are illegal to distribute, purchase, or use outside of medical research.

What is a narcotic? (medical)

The term “narcotic” comes from the Greek word for “stupor” and originally referred to a variety of substances that dulled the senses and relieved pain. The medical term “narcotic” refers to drugs substances and chemicals that have sedative effects and are usually used to numb severe pain or as anesthetics. These are given only in special cases and strictly under medical supervision. When used carefully and under a health care provider’s direct care, these drugs can be effective at reducing pain.

Though some people still refer to all drugs as “narcotics,” today “narcotic” medically refers to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic substitutes. Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain. However, it is not recommended that you use a narcotic drug for more than 3 to 4 months, unless you are under direct care of a physician.

Narcotic medical uses for heroin

Even though heroin is derived from morphine – which is commonly used for treating pain or sedation – and in some countries pure heroin is used as an analgesic, in the United States, there is no recognized medical purpose of heroin. This is because in the U.S., heroin is considered a highly dangerous drug with potentially severe psychological and physical consequences.

Heroin narcotic abuse

Heroin has powerful effects on the central nervous system creating a feeling of well-being, which is the main reason why this opiate drug is frequently being abused. Heroin abuse is often associated with a number of devastating consequences ranging from infectious diseases to social problems such as:

  • crime
  • hepatitis
  • family, work and relationship problems
  • fetal abnormalities

Why is heroin a Schedule I drug?

According to DEA’s definition “[S]chedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. As an easily obtained drug with no legitimate medical purpose and a high abuse and dependency potential, heroin has been designated a Schedule I drug that is strictly controlled in the U.S. due to its:

1. Lack of medical use
2. Addictive potential
3. Negative individual and social outcomes

Is heroin addictive?

Yes, heroin is highly addictive.

In fact, addiction to heroin is a recurring, growing problem in the U.S. Addiction is commonly defined as an chronic disease characterized by uncontrollable drug seeking which is caused by changes in the brain which happen with regular drug use.

One possible outcome of regular use is developing tolerance to heroin, which happens when the person increases the dose over time in order to achieve the same effects of the drug. Another probability of usng heroin regularly is the development of dependence which happens when the person persistently uses the the drug in order to avoid heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction is characterized by three(3) main signs:

1. Loss of control of drug use
2. Compulsion or obsession to use the drug
3. Continued use despite negative consequence to self

Should drug classification change?


There have been various attempts for legalizing heroin’s medical use for treating addiction and pain, and it switching to Schedule II substance. Some advocates seek to legalize heroin in order to reduce crime through licensing and regulations instead of black market distribution. However, none of the proposals have convinced government bodies, to date.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse is strictly opposed to the legalization of heroin’s medical use, contending that it has the most powerful addiction potential among all opiates and has to be strictly controlled.

Heroin narcotic questions

Do you perhaps have additional questions about the narcotic properties of heroin? If so, please send us your questions via the comments section and we will try to respond to you as soon as possible.

Reference Sources: DEA: Definition of narcotics
NIDA: Research reports: Heroin
NIDA: Drug Facts on Heroin
NIH: Medline Plus: Heroin
DEA: Justice Department Drug Info
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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