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Identifying Paraphernalia for Heroin Abuse

Paraphernalia is an easy way to recognize heroin abuse. People need certain instruments to abuse drugs. If you can spot the paraphernalia, it can signify that a loved one is abusing heroin.

If you have a history of heroin abuse, you need to get rid of all paraphernalia as its presence can quickly trigger a relapse.

Heroin Abuse

Heroin is a synthetic opiate drug that is on the rise again in the United States, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. According to the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid abuse causes the deaths of about 130 people per day due to overdoses.
Originally, opium was smoked to get high quickly, and the drug was sometimes eaten for a slower method of intoxication. The first heroin abuse epidemic began in the 19th century after heroin was injected into soldiers.
Now, injecting it is the most common method of heroin abuse, but smoking and snorting are also methods of the drug’s chemical addiction. These forms of heroin abuse also involve different types of drug paraphernalia or items used to abuse the substance.

Paraphernalia Associated With Different Forms of Heroin Abuse

The term drug paraphernalia refers to any equipment that a person uses to consume drugs. For example, people who smoke cigarettes may have a lighter and rolling paper, while people who snort cocaine may have a razor blade to cut the drug, a mirror, and a rolled-up piece of paper to snort the substance.
If you are worried that a loved one may be abusing heroin, there are some items you could find that indicate they struggle with abusing this opioid. This will depend on how the person is abusing the drug.

Items of Heroin Drug Abuse

  • Injection drug use (IDU): This is the most common method of heroin abuse and also the most potentially harmful. While abusing heroin in any form quickly leads to addiction and compulsive behaviors, injecting the drug is associated with certain higher risks, including spreading viral infections.
    The following paraphernalia is associated with IDU of heroin:
    • Hypodermic needles
    • Small cotton balls
    • Dirty spoons or bottle caps used to cook the drug
    • Lighters
    • A “tie-off” of rubber tubing or other material to make veins pop out

People who inject drugs are more likely to share needles with each other or reuse dirty needles. This increases the risk of skin and intravenous bacterial infections, which can cause blood clots.  Sharing needles with others may also spread viral infections, particularly hepatitis C and HIV.
Among those 18 to 25 years old who abuse heroin and other opioids through injection, rates of hepatitis C have risen 400 percent between 2004 and 2014. Among those between 30 and 39 years old, rates of hepatitis C have risen 325 percent due to injection drug abuse. 

  • Smoking: Smoking heroin requires less paraphernalia than injecting it, but you may still find the following:
    • Razor blades to cut the drug up 
    • Spoons
    • Lighters
    • Pipes or aluminum foil

You may also notice a chemical smell from the drug hanging around the person’s room or house. You may also notice that your loved one has developed a chronic cough, has a cold or a lung infection more often, or appears more sluggish. 

  • Snorting: The following paraphernalia is associated with snorting drugs:
    • Mirrors or a smooth surface to snort from
    • Rolled-up paper or straws
    • Razor blades

Although snorting heroin is one of the slower delivery methods compared to injecting and smoking, it is still very fast and very dangerous. It also involves fewer items lying around that may give away substance abuse problems.
Side effects from snorting drugs like heroin include red or runny nose, frequent nosebleeds, sniffling, or continually being sick. 

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Reasons to Toss Heroin Paraphernalia 

If you struggle with substance abuse, like injecting or smoking heroin, there are many reasons to get rid of paraphernalia when you decide to quit.
First, under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Code Title 21, Section 863, it is illegal for anyone to sell, or offer for sale, drug paraphernalia like pipes, clips, or other specific equipment associated with abusing illegal substances. It is also illegal to import, export, and transport these items across state lines. If law enforcement finds needles and used spoons in your home, you may be prosecuted for abusing an illegal drug.
Psychologically, seeing paraphernalia once associated with intoxication increases the experience of cravings, and this increases the risk of relapse back into drug abuse.

If You See It — You Will Use It

A study of 50 people who struggled with opioid abuse — 25 struggled with heroin, 20 struggled with prescription opioids, and five abused both equally — found that seeing items associated with drug abuse increased their desire to take the drug and triggered compulsive behaviors and anxiety.

However, the study also found that these triggers varied by substance. Since people often use paraphernalia while abusing heroin, such as injecting or smoking equipment, those cues were more likely to trigger cravings in people who struggled with heroin compared to people who abused prescription drugs. 

Any method of abusing heroin is harmful regardless of how fast the drug hits your brain. While there are different side effects from different methods of abusing heroin, the drug itself is very potent and rapidly causes compulsive behaviors to take more of the substance.

Sad man sitting down next to heroin paraphernalia

How To Get Rid of Heroin Paraphernalia 

If you struggle with heroin abuse and have associated that with specific paraphernalia, get rid of these items when you enter treatment. You may ask your detox and rehabilitation program if there are safe disposal methods. Some cities and states have needle disposal sites, and some police departments have safe return days.

If you feel you are not able to get rid of these items, have a trusted friend or loved one do it for you, without risking others’ health and safety. Removing items that trigger cravings and put you at risk of relapse after treatment is crucial.


(December 19, 2018). Understanding the Epidemic. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved February 2019 from

(October 29, 2013). Heroin. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved February 2019 from

(2003). Drug Paraphernalia Fast Facts. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Retrieved February 2019 from

(July 19, 2018). Persons Who Inject Drugs (PWID). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved February 2019 from

(March 25, 2016). Cue-Induced Craving to Paraphernalia and Drug Images in Opioid Dependence. American Journal of Addiction. Retrieved February 2019 from

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