Written by attorney David Nelson Jolly

Drug DUIs: The effects of heroin on a DUI driver

HEROIN Diacetylmorphine (better known as heroin) is another derivative of the opium poppy, and was synthesized from morphine in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, an English chemist working at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, England. Heroin was subsequently brought to market by the pharmaceutical giant Bayer, in 1898. From 1898 through to 1910, heroin was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough suppressant. Bayer marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction before it was discovered that it is rapidly metabolized into morphine, and as such, heroin was essentially a quicker acting form of morphine. Bayer was understandably embarrassed by this finding and it soon became an historical blunder for the company. Bayer lost some of its trademark rights to "heroin," as it did with aspirin (and other drugs), under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles following the German defeat in World War I. The effects created by heroin are very much the same as those created by the use of morphine and include euphoria and the feeling of well-being, relaxation, drowsiness, sedation, lethargy, disconnectedness, self-absorption, mental clouding, and delirium. When mixed with alcohol sedation, drowsiness, and decreased motor skills may occur. Laboratory studies have shown that morphine may cause sedation and significant psychomotor impairment for up to 4 hours following a single dose in normal individuals. Early effects may include slowed reaction time, depressed consciousness, sleepiness, and poor performance on divided attention and psychomotor tasks. Late effects may include inattentiveness, slowed reaction time, greater error rate in tests, poor concentration, distractibility, fatigue, and poor performance in psychomotor tests. Subjective feelings of sedation, sluggishness, fatigue, intoxication, and body sway have also been reported. According to NHTSA, in several driving under the influence case reports where the subjects tested positive for heroin, observations included slow driving, weaving, poor vehicle control, poor coordination, slow response to stimuli, delayed reactions, difficultly in following instructions, and falling asleep at the wheel. In the DUI context and field sobriety testing, horizontal gaze nystagmus, vertical gaze nystagmus, and lack of convergence are not present. Further, pupil size is constricted and there is little or no reaction to light. The subject's pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature are generally lower. Id.

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