An opiate narcotic abused by nearly 4 and a half million people every year, heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs in existence. The substance comes in a brownish/white powder form or a black sticky tar form called ‘Black Tar Heroin.’ Heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected. The vast majorities of people start using heroin by snorting the drug and then will start injecting it. Smoking heroin is less likely, however many users have reported doing this.
Heroin use causes both physical and mental dependence on the drug as well as a drug tolerance. A heroin drug tolerance occurs when someone has to use more and more heroin to achieve the same effect that they previously had with lesser doses. The physical and mental dependence grows with heroin as the tolerance does. After first use, an individual may think about or mentally crave the drug. After many uses the physical dependence sets in and one may feel severely ill within a few hours after taking heroin. This is the onset of heroin withdrawal and anyone going through will feel as though they had a case of the flu or food poisoning. These effects can last a few days to a few weeks.
According to reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many new heroin users are trying the drug after becoming addicted to prescription opiates. These reports indicate that half of teens surveyed that were injecting heroin reported that they started out using prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Broken down synthetically these drugs (and other hydrocodone products) produce very similar effects to heroin.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports other opiate painkillers were responsible for more deaths than both heroin and cocaine combined. With that said, heroin is involved in several thousand overdose deaths every year in the United States alone.
The History of Heroin
The discovery of heroin dates back to 1874, when a man named C.R. Wright combined morphine and acetic anhydride, synthesizing diacetylmorphine. It wasn’t until 1895 that the hybrid drug was coined “heroin”, because of the heroic feeling it gave those who used it, and people began to use it. Heroin and morphine are actually opiates, made from the juice of the poppy. Bayer, who attested that it was not an addictive drug, sold it as a cough suppressant for 12 years. For a short time, heroin was used to treat those who were suffering with morphine addictions until it was discovered that heroin metabolized into morphine. In 1923, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotics Division banned all legal narcotics sales, which forced addicts to illegally by the drugs from street dealers. This lead to the development of the thriving black market in New York’s Chinatown. The use of heroin subsided after the Vietnam War until Mexico introduced their version of heroin known as “Mexican Mud”. This quickly took the place of the “China White”. The U.S. and Mexican governments retaliated by spraying the poppy fields with Agent Orange (an herbicide developed for the military), but another source took Mexico’s place.
Signs of Heroin Use
As stated previously, it seems that the new trend today is for opiate addicts to switch to heroin. Once a person is addicted to prescription painkillers, his tolerance begins to build over time, until the amount of painkillers he needs to take to feel the desired affects becomes extremely expensive and unaffordable. In fact, someone addicted to prescription may need to take around six or seven pills per day to stay high. Surprisingly, those same pills can be sold for a gram of heroin, which would supply an addict with a high for three to four days. This is a much more conventional means of getting high, many have found.
These particular types of drugs can cause physical dependence and can lead to addiction in some people. Someone who is abusing opiates may take a larger dosage in order to achieve a more euphoric effect or to lessen withdrawal symptoms. It is easy to see how one would have to take more and more, which would inevitably increase the cost of keeping up with the addiction. The following are common signs of heroin use:
- Small pupils
- Loss of drive and ambition towards life and prior goals
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- A “lost” look in the eyes
- Difficulty speaking
- Poor self-image
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent nausea/vomiting
- Poor memory
- Alternating between sleepiness and alertness
- Injection sites/infections
When someone takes an addictive drug like heroin over and over again, their body will become dependent on it as it becomes used to the effects of the drug. When this happens, the body will also develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning that the person must continue to take more and more in order to achieve the same results, as mentioned. Withdrawal from heroin can begin in as little as four hours for someone who is severely dependent on the drug. The longer one goes without heroin, the more unpleasant the withdrawal symptoms will become. This is where it gets difficult for the heroin addict to keep from using again. He knows that he can make all of these horrible feelings go away if he simply takes more of the drug. A list of common withdrawal symptoms from heroin are listed below:
- Severe drug craving
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes and goose bumps
- Severe mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts.
How to Help a Heroin Addict
Unfortunately, there are many people who are dealing with a loved one who is addicted to heroin. Many may want to help, but don’t know what to do or where to start. The best place to start would be to contact a drug rehab facility. There are medical professionals who are trained specifically in addictions and their effects, as well as how to treat them.
The facility should help you to get more educated on heroin abuse and the signs of use and come up with a plan to resolve the addiction. This may include intervention services or speaking to addict directly for enrollment. Be prepared for the user to possibly be upset at the idea of treatment. He or she may do or say things that are completely out of character. Stay calm and get them on the phone or speaking directly with (through intervention services) a trained counselor. The trained staff at the facility can help guide family in the right direction for getting their loved one the help that they need. From here, you should take the necessary steps to help them to enroll in to treatment.
Once in treatment, the addict will need the love and support from his family and friends in order to overcome his addiction. It is important to be there and listen but always promote recovery and finishing treatment once it is started. It can take a heroin addict a minimum of 3 months to one year to recover from the problem. Once treatment has been completed, loved ones can help the recovering addict by keeping him busy and motivated with productive activities and by setting a good example. Make sure to speak with the addiction recovery center about aftercare as well as for many heroin addicts; it will be necessary to follow treatment up with this.