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, 64 (1), 1-6

The Therapeutic Use of Heroin: A Review of the Pharmacological Literature


The Therapeutic Use of Heroin: A Review of the Pharmacological Literature

J Sawynok. Can J Physiol Pharmacol.


Heroin is currently being advocated by some as a superior therapeutic agent for use in terminal illness. However, a review of the literature on heroin presently available does not support this contention. Administered orally, heroin is approximately 1.5 times more potent than morphine in controlling chronic pain in terminal cancer patients. Its effects on mood and the incidence and nature of side effects do not differ from those of morphine except in males where poorer pain control probably accounts for the worse effect on mood. Given parenterally for acute pain, heroin is 2-4 times more potent than morphine and faster in onset of action. When the potency difference is accounted for, the pharmacological effects of heroin do not differ appreciably from those of morphine. Heroin is metabolized to 6-acetylmorphine and morphine. After oral administration of heroin, morphine but not heroin or 6-acetylmorphine is detected in blood. In this case, heroin is a prodrug for the delivery of systemic morphine. Following acute i.v. administration, heroin appears transiently in blood with a half-life of about 3 min. The half-life of heroin exposed to blood or serum in vitro is 9-22 min, indicating that organ metabolism is involved in blood clearance as well. Direct renal clearance of heroin is less than 1% of the administered dose. In animal studies, heroin and 6-acetylmorphine are both more potent and faster acting than morphine as analgesics, effects attributed to their greater lipid solubility and subsequent penetration of the blood-brain barrier. Given centrally, morphine is more potent than heroin and 6-acetylmorphine in producing analgesia.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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