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The two faces of heroin: medicine and killer

Generic image of an opium poppy

Press release issued: 14 April 2015

The use of morphine, heroin and other related opioids for the relief of severe pain and as drugs of abuse will be explored in a free public lecture on Thursday 30 April 2015 at the University of Bristol.

Morphine extracted from the resin of the opium poppy is used medicinally to treat severe pain and works by mimicking the action of naturally occurring chemicals called endorphins.  While heroin, a synthetic derivative of morphine, is used primarily to induce profound feelings of euphoria by interacting with the reward pathway in the brainHeroin also causes respiratory depression which is the main cause of death in overdose. Heroin addicts are often polydrug abusers taking a variety of drugs such as alcohol, cocaine and benzodiazepines in addition to heroin. It is important to understand how these drugs may interact and whether or not they increase the likelihood of heroin overdose.

Professor Graeme Henderson, an expert in opioid pharmacology from the University’s School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience  in the Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences, will discuss recent advances in the field that may lead to the development of novel therapeutic agents not only for the treatment of different types of pain but also for depression and anxiety, as well as to defining the specific dangers of polydrug abuse.

Professor Henderson, a member of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, said: “How the brain reacts to these type of drugs is a fascinating story to which research at Bristol has contributed significantly.”

The public lecture, entitled ‘The two faces of heroin: medicine and killer', takes place at 6 pm on Thursday 30 April 2015 in the Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1RJ. Admission is free but you must register to attend. For further information about this event, please email


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