A growing body of research suggests that for a new wave of young people heroin is "just another drug", no different to cannabis or amphetamines.
Professor Howard Parker of Manchester University, an expert on heroin who is carrying out research on the drug for the Home Office, believes the lack of education is partly responsible. "We have a generation of school kids who have been told that ecstasy kills, but there is not much information about heroin. A lot of these people have no idea that heroin is addictive."
His research has found there are few new heroin users in the cities where the drug ravaged communities during the 1980s. He believes this is partly because young drug-takers can see the effects of heroin addiction, and most avoid it.
Heroin's transition from the number one bogey drug to an acceptable alternative among clubbers and a significant number of novice substance abusers is remarkable.
It is now known more commonly as "brown" and is frequently sold in user-friendly pounds 10 wraps. These contain about a tenth of a gram of heroin, which is enough for a novice to remain intoxicated for an evening. Rather than injecting, which is associated with health risks and junkies, heroin is often chased (inhaled by burning it on tin foil), smoked in cigarettes or snorted.
Dealers have also promoted the drug as a method of coming down from a "high" after a night of dancing on ecstasy or speed. A small number of clubbers are starting to smoke heroin at the end of the evening.
"It's become part of recreational drug ritual - this is how some people are coming into contact with heroin for the first time," explained Mike Goodman, director of Release, the national drug helpline.
Heroin has gradually grown in popularity as it has shed its 1980s image of a losers' drug - reflected in the number and quantity of heroin seizures which have risen every year for the past decade.
While the number of people taking heroin is still tiny, the repercussions are immense. It is highly addictive and about 200 people in England and Wales died from overdoses in 1997.
Mr Goodman said that Release is for the first time getting more inquiries about heroin than about any other drug: "There has not been a high- impact heroin campaign for some time and a lot of young people just don't realise how dangerous and risky it is."
Drugs workers are sceptical about stories of dealers giving teenagers free heroin to get them hooked. Researchers in Scotland have estimated that about 200 children aged 11 or 12 have taken heroin - almost all of whom obtained it from their parents or older brothers and sisters.
While there are many possible explanations why a new wave of drug users are turning to heroin, the dealers who supply it have been quick to realise there are fortunes to be made.Reuse content