Heroin drug addiction: An American tragedy
Once heralded as a safe and non-addictive alternative to morphine, heroin drug addiction has turned into a national menace since coming to the United States in the late 1800’s.
Sometimes glamorized, heroin drug addiction is the most rapidly acting of the opiates and the most abused. It is everywhere, in our communities, in our schools and its reach crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. It is highly addictive and all too often fatal.
What is causes addiction?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug, made from morphine, which is made from opium, a processed derivative from a natural substance harvested from the seedpods of poppy plants. The drug appears as a white powder, although it is sometimes also seen as a brown powder.
The drug is usually injected, but it can also be smoked, or snorted.
While most people can truly be saved from drug addiction to heroin, but in reality few seek treatment.
Visit Opioid Abuse Facts for general opiate information.
Users inject because the intensity of the high is greater, and chronic users may inject up to four times or more each day.
The user gets his “rush” within seconds after the injection. When the drug is smoked or snorted, it may take up to 15 minutes for it to take effect. The “rush” is not as intense. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that regardless of the way the drug is taken, it’s extremely addictive. In recent years, the smoking and snorting of heroin has been widely reported among those seeking treatment for addiction. Many have a misconception that heroin drug addiction only happens if (they) inject it; NOT TRUE!
Although people over 30 are the largest user group according to national data, there is an alarming indication that young users are being attracted by a high purity form of the drug, which is also inexpensive. This form of the drug is usually smoked or sniffed, not injected.
How did heroin come to the United States?
Opium found its way into the United States in the 1800’s when Chinese immigrants came to work on the railroad. They brought opium with them, and while we may have an image of the Wild West being riddled with saloons, opium dens were once as common.
Morphine was developed from opium around 1810 in Germany for use in blocking pain. The medicine came to this country in the 1850’s and was widely used in the Civil War.
The unexpected consequence of morphine was addiction, as tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers became addicts.
Meanwhile, back in Germany, a supposedly “safe and non-addictive” form of morphine was being developed and in 1874 we were introduced to heroin and heroin drug addiction.
This “miracle drug” would do everything that morphine did, only without the negative side effects. In fact, drug companies thought it was so safe they even recommended it for children. Heroin drug addiction became such a problem that it was included in the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920, as Congress tried to stop the dreadful tide of heroin drug addiction.
What does heroin do?
Heroin is a central nervous system depressant that gives the user a “rush,” an intense feeling of pleasure, euphoria.
- The user feels a warm flush to the skin. The user’s arms and legs feel heavy, and relaxed.
- Dry mouth is common.
- Users may feel sleepy one moment and be wide awake another.
- The central nervous system is depressed under heroin, and mental functions slow down.
These are all short-term effects.
Long-term, abuse and heroin drug addiction can lead to:
- Collapsed veins.
- Serious, unseen problems can occur, such as heart problems, infections of the heart lining and valves.
- Cellulites and liver disease can develop, as well as pulmonary disease.
- Addicts who are in poor health are in jeopardy of contracting pneumonia, as heroin depresses the respiratory system.
Users develop a tolerance to heroin and that leads to abuse and heroin drug addiction. Abusers need more and more heroin to get the same “rush” and as the amount of heroin needed grows, the dependence on the drug takes hold.
Addicts need the drug because their bodies become used to the drug being present, as if it were supposed to be there in order for everything to function.
The BRAIN has been fooled into thinking it “needs” the heroin.
Reduction in the amount of heroin used produces withdrawal symptoms, even though the addict is still using.
Even after a short period of time, as little as a few hours, the body wants more.
Addicts experience pain in the muscles and bones, diarrhea, chills, vomiting and insomnia. The worst of the symptoms of withdrawal occur 48 to 72 hours after taking the drug, and can linger on for a week.
Addicts who are in poor health are actually at risk of dying if the drug is taken away. However, a withdrawal is not as life-threatening or dangerous as barbiturate or alcohol withdrawal.
Overdose is COMMON
Users who take to the streets to find heroin, do not necessarily know what they are buying. The powder they think is heroin is actually a mixture of other substances heroin.
The heroin is cut with sugar, or quinine, or some other substance, even another drug.
The buyer does not know the dosage of the heroin, or the content of the mixture. As a result, overdoses are common. As users develop a tolerance to heroin, and take more and more to get high, the risks of overdose increase.
Heroin is a major problem because of its serious health risks. Users who mainline heroin are in jeopardy of contracting AIDS and hepatitis from sharing dirty needles, and those users often sustain collapsed veins. Heroin overdose is a serious risk, and too often those overdoses are fatal. Women using this drug while pregnant can suffer a spontaneous abortion.
In another section of this web site we refer to rehab programs that administer alternatives to heroin.
Please see the treatment page to understand heroin treatment risks!
This is done because of the danger involved with cutting the addict off and denying the body the opportunity to reset itself to functioning without the drug.
Do you need help getting off Heroin but are afraid of detox? Learn about Rapid Detox
Where is it distributed?
Distributors and dealers of heroin target children for expanding their markets.
Schools are primary target areas for dealers.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System is a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2005 report indicated that among the students interviewed, 2.4% admitted to using heroin at least once in their life.
The Community Epidemiology Work Group measured strong heroin indicators in major North American cities.
Ranking highest were Baltimore, Newark, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC. The study for the year 2004, indicates that 82% of drug treatment admissions in Newark were primarily for heroin abuse. Boston reported 74% and Baltimore 60%. These drug treatment admissions did not include those for alcohol.
The good news is that it appears as though heroin drug addiction and abuse might be declining slightly. Still, adults 21-25 are a problem area, as according to 2004 figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of users in that group increased.
For more information on heroin drug addiction please click here
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