What is heroin?It is a highly addictive drug that is made from opium, a processed derivative from a natural substance harvested from the seedpods of poppy plants. It appears as a white powder, although it is sometimes also seen as a brown powder.

It is usually injected, but it can also be smoked, or snorted.

Drug Addiction Symptoms

Users inject because the intensity of the high is greater, and chronic users may inject up to four times or more each day. Because it is injected it goes directly into the bloodstream and then to the brain and the high is very quick and intense.Therefore you get your “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 it has been widely reported among those seeking treatment for addiction. Many have a misconception that dependence only happens if (they) inject it; This is 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 it come to the US?

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, although it may be hard to believe opium dens were once just 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” type of morphine was being developed and in 1874 we were introduced to addiction.

They initially believed that the “miracle drug” did everything that morphine did, only without the negative side effects of addiction. In fact, drug companies thought it was so safe they even recommended it for children. It became such a problem that it was included in the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920, as Congress tried to stop the dreadful tide of addiction.

What does it do?

It inhibits the central nervous system that’s gives the user a “rush,” an intense feeling of pleasure and euphoria.- The user feels a warm flush to the skin. The arms and legs feel heavy, and relaxed.

- Dry mouth is common.

- Users could sleepy one moment and be wide awake another.

- The central nervous system is suppressed under its use, and many mental functions slow down.

These are all short-term effects.

Long-term, abuse can lead to:

- Serious, unseen problems can occur, such as heart problems, infections of the heart lining and valves.

- users who are in poor health are in jeopardy of contracting pneumonia, as it depresses the respiratory system.

- Cellulites and liver disease can develop, as well as pulmonary disease.

Collapsed veins.

People develop a tolerance to it and that leads to abuse and heroin. Users 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, the brain adjusts and operates as if it were supposed to be there in order for everything to function.

The BRAIN has been tricked into thinking it “needs” the drug to function.

Reduction in the amount of the drug used produces withdrawal symptoms, even though the they are still using.

Even after a short period of time, as little as a few hours, the body wants more.

Users 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.

Users who are in poor health are actually at risk of dying if the drug is taken away. However, a withdrawal is not as dangerous or as life-threatening as barbiturate or alcohol withdrawal.

Drug overdose is COMMON

Addicts 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 with heroin.It’s usually cut with sugar, or quinine, or some other substance, sometimes 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.

Potential Major Health risks

It's a major problem because of 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. Overdose is a serious risk, and too often those overdoses are fatal. Women using this drug while pregnant can suffer a spontaneous abortion.

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.

How do people get it?

Distributors and dealers of heroin target children for expanding their markets.

Schools are primary focus areas for drug dealers.

Many kids start with Oxycontin abuse from the parents medicine cabinet and move on to heroin because it is MUCH cheaper!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.

Ranking highest cities for use as measured in 2004 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 treatment admissions did not include those for alcohol.

Read Darcy's Story, It's a common Heroin tale

Darcy’s father stood over her hospital bed, head bowed in silent prayer, asking God to help his 15 year-old daughter through withdrawal from her heroin addiction. He’s a good dad, loves his girl and can’t understand how such a young person, his child, could get into such deep trouble.

Heroin addicts aren’t high school students, they’re people who live on the streets and beg for change. Heroin addicts don’t have a 3.75 grade point average and apply for acceptance into the top colleges. Well adjusted teenage girls don’t attack their father with a golf club and curse him. How did it get so messed up?

Darcy had been using for nearly 18 months, not always regularly, but in recent weeks her appetite for heroin increased and dad discovered that his coin collection and jewelry were gone. Her allowance was generous, even by upper middle class standards, but once the addiction took over, it was insufficient to buy her the desired amount of the drug. She stole from her father, from her mother whom she lived with on alternative weekends, and from her older brothers and sisters.

Some of her grandmother’s possessions were missing, but she didn’t put two and two together and never suspected her granddaughter had ripper her off. As she increased her usage, Darcy discovered that not having enough drug was far worse than having the problem of addiction. Coming off heroin was difficult. Her body had become dependent upon the replenishment of the drug, as the heroin would attach itself to Opioid receptors in her brain and spinal chord.

Her body no longer produced its own natural chemicals to manage pain, so not having the heroin caused her to become “dope sick.” When the drug was not replenished, she went into withdrawal. She never experienced this before, because the withdrawal didn’t occur with occasional use, but after time, as she used more and more drug, and needed more and more drug, the abrupt removal of heroin was devastating.

She didn’t start out that way. When she was in eighth grade she and her friends were given marijuana to try. Most of the kids didn’t like it, because it either tasted terrible or they didn’t like the feeling they got when the effects kicked in. But it agreed with Darcy, who also began to raid the family liquor cabinet when she couldn’t buy grass.

One day, when she was just past her 14th birthday, she discovered some pain killers in her mother’s medicine cabinet. Her mom had a back surgery and was prescribed OxyContin, but only took a couple of them, leaving a nearly full prescription in the bathroom.

Even 14 year-old people can research on the internet and soon she learned that by grinding the drug and snorting it, the high was intense. The chances for addiction were also intense and it didn’t take long before Darcy was seeking that euphoric experience over and over.

It was the only time she felt good. She solicited her friends to steal drugs from their parents. Any kind of pain killer would do, but Vicodin and Oxy were preferred, and because they are prescribed so often, getting a supply wasn’t all that difficult. She also became rather cleaver, as each time she visited the house of a new “friend” she would secretly check out the medicine cabinets.

Darcy soon realized that OxyContin was expensive, but heroin on the street was about a quarter the price, so see looked for suppliers. She didn’t have to search long.

Quitting heroin cold turkey is isn’t easy. Treatment centers will help addicts through the process often times by prescribing drugs like buprenorphine, which is FDA-approved for medical detox. Subutex or Suboxone are other drugs with smaller amounts of buprenorphine, and those are used to help the addict gradually descrease their physical dependence.

Clonidine is another drug used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and may be prescribed rather than the buprenorphine. Methadone treatment is also common, but these are specific centers that use the drug, and the dosage of methadone is gradually reduced over time to help the addict’s body adjust. Unlike the other drugs, methadone treatment may be long-term.

The fact that a young girl can become addicted to opiates should not be a surprise. Take a look at the population in general. It is estimated that as many as 10% of Americans have at one time or another abused opiates. It could be as innocent an act as merely taking one too many pills, or taking your pills too often, but that is still abuse. Even when people follow their doctor’s prescription to the tee, their bodies can build up a tolerance to the drugs.

Even when the original injury is healed and there should not no further need for pain management, the body still thinks it needs the analgesic. Even people who were given pain meds in the hospital may experience withdrawal when they get home.

Darcy’s father had read someplace that some withdrawal treatment programs offered faster results. Rapid opiate detox involves putting the patient under anesthesia and injecting opiate-blocking drugs. The idea is that this treatment will speed the system to normal function, but there are cases in which the treatment actually made the withdrawal symptoms worse, or even caused deaths when the treatment was administered outside a hospital setting.

Darcy was hospitalized due to intense withdrawal and was receiving the best care. It was decided that she would not go under, mainly because opiate withdrawal causes vomiting, and that would increase the chances of death. Any rapid detox was ruled out in her case.

Her father stood there, feeling completely helpless. A nurse suggested he contact Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery, in an effort to learn how he can best help his daughter. Moving forward, once she was released, and out of treatment, a support group would be a lifeline to help her rebuild her life and return to a healthy lifestyle. Some material from NA helped him understand that opiate withdrawal is painful, but not necessarily fatal.

While Darcy was receiving exceptional care, the biggest problem that she would face in the future, as her father learned, was relapse. Once the drug was out of her system, a return to the old dosage could be fatal. Over time her body built up a tolerance, so more and more drug was needed, but after detox and treatment, her body was getting back to normal.

The old amount was way too much and most overdoes occur right after treatment. She was going to need long-term treatment, so the group would be an important component to that. She would also need some additional medical testing, to check for depression or some other form of mental illness. Darcy may need the benefit of an antidepressant

Darcy was lucky. Treatment is more effective when the heroin addiction is identified early and having a father who was willing to be taught how to help his daughter was a plus.

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