The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA is instrumental in much of the world’s research on health issues related to drug abuse and addiction, carrying out various programs supporting the policy and practice improvements in the field of drug abuse. Recently, NIDA released a report on heroin due to the growing concern about the drug and its potentially devastating effects.
Heroin Abuse Issues
The NIDA report identifies heroin as a highly addictive and illegal drug, which is derived from the processing of morphine. Morphine is extracted from the seed pod of specific varieties of poppy plants, and is naturally occurring.
Heroin is usually sold in powder form, brownish or white in color, and “cut” (the adding or mixing) with other substances such as powdered milk, sugars, starch or quinine, a bitter tasting white crystalline substance used to treat malaria. Quinine also has painkilling and fever-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Heroin which is very pure can be smoked or snorted, and may appeal to users who want to avoid the social stigma of injecting the drug with a needle.
“Black tar” heroin, hard like coal or sticky much like roofing tar, primarily comes out of Mexico and in the U.S. is sold in regions west of the Mississippi River. This form of heroin stems from crude processing methods, and is usually dissolved and diluted in order for injection into veins, muscles or beneath the skin.
Scope of Use
Based on 2012 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 669,000 Americans reported past year use of heroin, with the number of users rising since 2007.
Young adults in the age group of 18-25 appear to be driving the increasing trend in use. Additionally, first-time users shows an unacceptably high number of 156,000 people in 2012, a number almost double that of people starting heroin in 2006 (90,000).
As a point of comparison, heroin use by teens (12-17 years of age) is seen to be declining and at its lowest levels since the Monitoring the Future survey began recording the data.
Link to Prescription Drug Abuse
According to NIDA, the adverse health consequences from abusing opioid medications (prescription painkillers) such as Oxycontin, Demerol and Vicodin have increased dramatically in recent years.
NIDA cites the example of unintentional poisoning deaths stemming from prescription opioids currently outnumber those stemming from cocaine and heroin combined, quadrupling between 1999 and 2010.
Furthermore, NIDA cautions that despite the fact that people frequently assume that these prescription drugs are somehow safer than illicit drugs by nature of being medically prescribed, they can result in severe and adverse health effects, especially when taken in amounts or ways or for reasons not intended by the prescriber. NIDA cited the consequences of addiction, overdose and death, and cautioned that the risk increases when these drugs are combined with alcohol or other drugs.
NIDA also cites the fact that research suggests the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers may be actually opening the door to heroin use, making them a “gateway” drug. Based on three recent studies, almost half of the young people surveyed who were now injecting heroin reported they were abusing prescription opioids prior to using heroin.
Additionally, some of those surveyed reported switching to heroin due to it being easier and cheaper to obtain than prescription opioids.
Long Term Effects
The bottom line is that heroin is an extremely addictive drug, no matter how the user administers it. The risk of addiction increases with administering the drug by injection or smoking, and once addicted, the user is trapped in the all consuming seeking and using of the drug as their primary purpose in life. In its simplest terms, the person becomes, and is, a heroin addict.