Heroin is one of the most dangerous and deadly substances on the planet which has become more widely used as a result of prescription medications containing a synthetic version of the drug. Many people who are prescribed opioid-based meds for pain conditions are finding themselves using heroin as a cheaper and more accessible substitute.
Heroin addiction is mainly considered to be a mental health condition that can be addressed either with heroin treatment medication or other multidisciplinary approaches. In this article, we uncover the dangers of heroin and how the heroin epidemic has developed.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an extract of the opium poppy, a flower that is indigenous to Mexico, Asia, and South America. For centuries, opium was used to treat pain although it has also been abused recreationally since the substance was discovered. Heroin, invented in the late 19th century, has been illegal in America since 1924 after being recognized as being highly addictive. Heroin either comes in a white or brown powder form or as a black tar and it is commonly referred to in drug-taking circles as horse, smack, junk and brown sugar.
How Heroin Is Used
Heroin is a fast-acting substance that reaches the brain quickly regardless of how it is used. It is also possible to become addicted to the drug even after only using one or two times. Once addicted, it is incredibly difficult not to use again and heroin treatment medication or heroin addiction recovery program is often needed.
Heroin can be smoked or snorted although the majority of users inject it directly into their bloodstream. This provides the user with the fastest route to the compelling high they want to achieve. Taking heroin by injection is also the most dangerous method of using the substance and increases the risk of deadly overdose significantly. The other risk of using heroin intravenously is that of infection caused by dirty needles.
How Does It Make You Feel?
Heroin users report that the drug gives them a rush of pleasant sensations that is followed by a few hours of feeling as though the world has slowed down. People say that they have a strong sensation of being in a dream-like state during the latter parts of a heroin high, which becomes a compelling reason to continue using the drug. According to a study carried out in Illinois, some users described a heroin high as feeling as though they are covered in a warm blanket and the worries of the world don’t exist.
However, not everyone has a good experience when they use heroin as it can cause nausea, vomiting and sometimes extreme itching. One of the most dangerous aspects of heroin use is how the substance depresses the heart rate and also the respiratory system. Respiratory arrest is a common cause of heroin-related death.
Why Are More People Using Heroin Today?
Heroin addiction has increased in recent years to become what is considered to be an epidemic in the US and increasingly around the world. Aside from the fact that heroin is widely available and cheap to obtain, there are also more people using the substance who have “graduated” from prescription meds than ever before. Many people on heroin addiction treatment programs originally started using the drug in opioid form as a prescription before moving on to heroin itself.
Opioid-based medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin contain a synthetic version of heroin and they are generally prescribed to treat chronic pain conditions. The problem is that tolerance to both opioids and its illegal counterpart heroin develops very quickly after a person has started using. When someone is managing pain, they find that the original dose they obtained from their physician is no longer strong enough to combat their symptoms.
This makes prescription drug users more likely to find an alternative source for pain relief, particularly when their physician is reluctant to increase the dose. Heroin works in exactly the same way as these powerful opioid medications and is generally much easier to obtain. However, in its purest form, heroin is even more addictive. Both heroin and its synthetic version cause physical, emotional and psychological conditions that are best addressed by specialist heroin addiction treatment.
The resulting growth in demand for heroin has led to increased production of the illegal drug and the amount being smuggled into the US has risen significantly. As a consequence of the rapid rise in heroin use and abuse, there are now almost 15,000 heroin addiction recovery centers offering treatment programs.
What Are the Effects of Heroin?
Once an individual has started using heroin, they are very likely to quickly develop a tolerance to it. This means that they will need to take more of the drug to get the effects they seek. The downside of this is that the body becomes used to receiving regular stimulus from heroin and become reliant on it. A sign that tolerance has developed is when a person starts to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using.
Prolonged heroin use and abuse can lead to the following:
- Collapsed veins
- Coronary infection
- Skin problems such as abscesses and cellulitis
- Risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C from dirty needles
- Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and TB
- Miscarriage in a pregnant woman
What to Do If You Think Someone Is Using
A person who is struggling with heroin use may not show any obvious signs that they are using drugs. The addict themselves is very unlikely to admit they have a problem and could even go to great lengths to conceal heroin use. It is probably unsurprising that many people attending heroin addiction treatment centers as a result of heroin addiction did not volunteer to seek heroin treatment medication or rehab but did so following the intervention of family and friends.
If someone is behaving completely out of character, mixing with different people, hanging out in unusual places or withdrawing from loved ones, it can be an indication of a problem. The most important thing is not to wait until the problem has gotten worse but to take action as soon as it is detected and get the individual the help they need. Heroin addiction is a treatable illness that people are able to overcome successfully to go on to live a substance-free life.