Heroin remains the country’s number one killer among drug users, though the numbers may be surprising. Studies have shown that new users are less likely to die (to a point) compared to experienced users, and that people who have recently become clean are more likely to overdose. One study concluded that 17% of heroin overdoses involve new users. The most recent celebrity death caused by heroin was Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The conclusive evidence that the death was caused by heroin is still yet to be provided.
How Heroin Kills
Heroin is taken into the body a variety of ways. Most common is injecting, which is the method that Hoffman used. When injecting, the body feels the effects of the drug almost immediately as it is put directly into the bloodstream and transferred through the body. Upon entering the body, the chemicals in the drug cause it to feel relaxed and less tolerant to pain. The body transforms the heroin into morphine, which has a
chemical structure that is similar to endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that inhibit neurons from firing, causing less of a reaction to pain and more of a positive feeling. The heroin in the body attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, causing a block and creating a high.
People who are under the influence of heroin feel very relaxed, which makes the user want to sleep. Too much relaxation causes a majority of the heroin overdoses. In essence, what happens is the body “forgets” to breathe. Too much heroin in the system makes the person’s respiratory system shut down once they fall asleep. Under normal circumstances, the body’s respiratory system is in a more relaxed state when the person is sleeping, but it is still active. Under the influence of heroin, however, the entire body feels relaxed and everything shuts down. This is not the only way heroin kills. Heroin can cause a dip in blood pressure and heart failure. An infection around the surface of the heart can form – a disease known as endocarditis. Heroin can also cause arrhythmia, a problem with the rhythm or beat of the heart that can cause a lack of proper blood flow to vital organs.
In Hoffman’s case, the method was more unexpected. Scientists are calling Hoffman’s death a rare case of instant as the man was found with the needle still sticking out of his arm. Studies have shown that this accounts for 14 percent of all heroin overdose deaths. The heroin found in Hoffman’s case was laced with Fentanyl, a drug that is reportedly 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Who Is Most Effected by Heroin
Statistically, heroin overdoses increase based on specific values. Typically, single men (though Hoffman was not single) who have struggled with other drugs or alcohol are most common for overdose. Addicts have a much higher chance of overdosing than new users; however, users who have recently become clean are more likely to overdose than addict. This might be due to a lack of understanding how much the body can take. Since a newly clean user cannot tolerate the amount they used to take, putting that much in their bodies can overload the system. Long-term users have developed a tolerance over time. Their bodies require more heroin to achieve the same high that a newer user experiences on their first time with minimally less of the drug. As longer users are more likely to ingest more of the drug, their chances of overdose are understandably higher. Experts believe it is misleading to say people cannot die from heroin having only used once or twice. The composition and amount of the drug going into the body, and the body itself play key roles in whether or not a person will live through a heroin intake.