Heroin and many prescription painkillers contain chemicals called opioids, which primarily affect the nervous system. Heroin is typically a white or brown powder that is snorted, smoked, or injected with a needle into a person’s body. It metabolizes into morphine, a pain-relieving and euphoria-inducing chemical, before it reaches a person’s brain. Painkillers like Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, and many others are legal when prescribed by a doctor, but are regularly abused because they contain opiates and produce similar feelings to those experienced on heroin. They’re illegal if used improperly or by those who don’t have a prescription, but they’re some of the most widely used drugs regardless.

Opiates cause feelings of euphoria, repress sensations of pain, and slow down breathing. They can also make you constipated or sick to your stomach, which is why so many people puke while using them. I never took them even once without ralphing my brains into a puddle, which was always really horrible—it felt like I would never stop vomiting. Opiates also make a person majorly check out of the real world and into one where the only things that exist are a vague but intense sense of pleasure, nausea, disorientation, and drowsiness. Users feel waves of vividly good feelings, but may also be (and commonly are) incredibly listless and spacey to the point of becoming nonverbal and nodding in and out of consciousness, both of which are extremely fucking scary and dangerous. The first high a person gets from an opiate is typically the best one they’ll have with that kind of drug, which is why people do them over and over again—they’re trying to achieve that same first euphoric numbness, although they never will.

With that in mind, we need to talk about addiction. It’s a very real and VERY awful thing. Opiates are extremely habit forming, and can completely take over a person’s livelihood before they even know it’s happening, which is sad and life-ruining. I’ve seen it happen a lot, and each beloved person’s descent into addiction has broken my heart in an entirely new way, despite my having witnessed horrible examples of drug dependence so many times before. It’s not just heroin that does this, either—you should be equally wary of prescription drugs. Just because they’re legal and somewhat regulated does not exempt them from being dangerous and subject to abuse and addiction. Health class teachers like to say that marijuana is the “gateway drug,” but I think that that title is better assigned to prescription pills. I’ve been close with many people who have gone from abusing painkillers to heroin, over a matter of years or months. This is likely because heroin is less expensive than pills, and also because people build up their tolerance levels to pills quickly and want something they think might give them the feeling they got while first using and don’t care what it is anymore at that point in their drug abuse.

Even if pills aren’t a gateway, they’re dangerous on their own. Opioid overdoses cause almost half of all deaths by drug overdose, and most of these are accidental and caused by prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, deaths from prescription-drug overdose occur more than deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, so don’t let anyone tell you that pills are “safer.” Addiction puts drugs before every other single thing in a person’s life, no matter how important any single awesome thing used to be to them, including their own health, which is why heroin is so closely linked to AIDS—as long as a person is getting a fix, most don’t care if the needle giving it to them is dirty. It’s easy to write this off as reactionary and scare-mongering thinking, I know. In high school, I would have laughed at this paragraph and been like, “Seriously, it’s not that big of a deal. I know people who use these things regularly and they’re fine.” All I can say to that is, wait a few years and see if you’re still thinking that those people, who are now lying to you about having “cut down” while looking at you with shifty but also somehow deadened eyes and no discernible personality left, have totally awesome and functional lives.

I’m not saying that every single person who ever messes around with opiates is going to become a shell of their former selves who’s hanging out in some gutter somewhere with a needle dangling from their biceps, because if that were the case, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this to you. All I’m saying is that if you do choose to try any of these things, which, please don’t, because I love you even if I haven’t met you yet, you need to understand the havoc they can wreak on your life and future. If a person must do them, which of course they don’t but whatever, pills are cleaner than heroin, which could be cut with anything, but are no less dangerous, as we’ve discussed above. Stay far away from anything with the prefix oxy-, like Oxycontin or Oxycodone, which are the most intense and thus the most addictive among prescription painkillers. It’s safer to stick with the lowest possible dosages of things like codeine—which is the stuff you get when you, like, get a wisdom tooth taken out, and which is less likely to form long-term habits or alter you permanently—although they’re definitely still destructive in their own right. NEVER, EVER mix opiates with alcohol, not only because mixing any drug with alcohol increases the likelihood of its harming you, but also because many prescription opiates include an additive called acetaminophen, which is an over-the-counter pain reliever that is metabolized through your liver, which is where alcohol is broken down, too—and giving your liver both of these jobs at once can damage it permanently. Also, if you’re gonna shoot opiates or anything, which I really wish you wouldn’t, because, again, I don’t want you to die, CLEAN YOUR NEEDLES. You’re already gambling with your life by shooting dope; you don’t need to take on the added risk of contracting AIDS.

Honestly, there are so many other drugs out there that carry a much lower risk of permanently screwing up your shit. Please keep that in mind if you’re thinking about using, my loves.