Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opiate drug. Derived from opium (obtained from the poppy plant), heroin is both the most commonly abused and most rapidly acting of the opiates. The drug can be smoked, injected or snorted, and the drug is typically seen sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as black tar heroin.
Although pure heroin is common, much of the available street heroin is “cut” with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at risk of overdose or death with each use. Heroin also poses special problems because of the transmission of HIV and other diseases that can occur as a result of sharing needles.
Also known by a number of street names in the US (which include: “smack,” “H,” “skag,” and “junk”), heroin users can overdose by snorting, injecting or smoking the drug, although opaite injection poses the greatest threat of overdose to its users by the excessive amount of the substance hitting the bloodstream all at once.
The Scope of Heroin Use in the US
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 4 million Americans over the age of 12 used heroin at least once in their lifetime, as reported in 2011. Further, NIDA’s sources say that about a quarter (23%) of those who use heroin become opiate dependent due to its highly addictive nature.
An estimated 669,000 people used heroin in 2012, and although the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that marijuana continues to be the number one drug of choice amongst Americans, it was recently reported that heroin use has been on the rise in the US since 2007.
Many attribute this increase in the resurgence of heroin to the related issue of prescription painkiller abuse, pill addicts are seen turning to heroin, making the fastest-growing group of heroin addicts young drug users living in middle class American suburbs.
The Effects of Heroin
Shortly after heroin has been consumed (whether by inhalation, snorting or injection), the powerful opiate hits the bloodstream creating an intense pleasurable sensation, often described as a euphoria or a “rush.” (The degree of intensity of the rush depends on the amount and potency of the heroin consumed.)
Once the initial intense rush has worn off, a heroin abuser may continue to feel a variety of short-term effects, including:
- Feeling of warmth
- Dry mouth
- Extreme drowsiness (“nodding off”)
- Constricted pupils
Some heroin users experience vomiting, impaired vision and mental function, trouble breathing (due to a depressed respiratory system) and nervous system suppression.
Long-term effects of heroin are seen after use of the drug continues and may include:
- Infections (on the open wounds of the skin; i.e. ulcers, abscesses, etc.)
- Heart trouble
- Liver disease
- Diseases/complications in other organs (kidneys, brain, etc.)
- Contraction of HIV/AIDS and Hepititis
Some users can rapidly develop pneumonia and other chronic illnesses as a result of general poor health of the blood vessels servicing the lungs and other vital organs.
Heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous to undergo without the proper supervision of trained medical staff. If you need assistance determining the next step in safely treating your own or a loved one’s heroin addiction, please contact us today by calling 1-800-468-6933.