Smoking Heroin Linked to Early-onset Emphysema

Effects of  Smoking Heroin in 73 Individuals in the UK

In the November 2015 issue of the journal CHEST (volume 148; pages 1156-1163), Buster and colleagues from the University Hospital Aintree and the University of Liverpool reported on 73 young adults (40 years of age or younger) who were diagnosed with COPD and smoked heroin regularly in the past 2 years.
Smoking heroin from tin foil

Smoking heroin from tin foil

The average history of smoking heroin was 14 years, and the participants also smoked cigarettes for at least 5 years. The study took place during 2005-2013. The authors concluded that smoking heroin may be associated with the development of emphysema at an early age. They also emphasized the need for education about the risks of inhaled opiate use. My Comments: This study has two important messages: 1. Inhaling anything can cause damage to the lungs in those susceptible to the toxic effects of what is inhaled; 2. Those with early-onset emphysema should have a blood test for a hereditary form of emphysema, called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. I found the following information after searching the web for “Smoking Heroin.” Smoking heroin is also known as chasing the dragon and is one method for inhaling heroin. There are fewer fatalities recorded with this method than injecting or snorting the drug. However, smoking heroin can be fatal depending on how the body responds, the amount of the drug used, and the purity of the heroin.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.