Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug in the Opiate family. Opiates are drugs made from the poppy plant and are considered “natural”. Opioids are synthetic drugs that act very similar to Opiates. Opioids include: Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, OxyContin, Methadone and Suboxone. Opiates include: Heroin, Codeine and Morphine. Heroin was first made in the 1800’s as diamorphine and marketed under the name “Heroin” as a “non-addictive” morphine substitute and cough syrup. In the 1920’s Heroin became illegal and is considered a Schedule I substance meaning it has no currently acceptable medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.
Most of the world’s poppy grown in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia in a region known as the Golden Triangle. There is also some poppy grown in the Sinaloa region of Mexico and in parts of Columbia. Once raw opium is turned into Heroin it is smuggled into the US through various drug cartels and trafficking groups. In some countries being caught or convicted of trafficking Heroin can carry a death sentence. Heroin has been tied to terrorism and is an important source of income for many terrorist organizations. Once in the US, it is sold in bulk then diluted or “cut” and sold in usable amounts for as much as $150 a gram.
In the last 10-15 years Heroin has increased in popularity and use due to America’s prescription drug problem. The majority of Heroin users report starting with prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Norco, OxyContin and Dilaudid then find their way to Heroin because it is cheaper and more available. It’s hard to say exactly how many people in the world use Heroin. Some estimate there are around 13 to 14 million people in the world that use Opiates or Opioids which includes as many as 9 million users. In the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s 2016 Facts and Figures they estimate that in 2014 1.9 million people 12 or older had a substance use disorder involving prescription painkillers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving Heroin.
Heroin comes in various forms. The purest form of it is white powder sometimes known as “China White”. Powder Heroin can come in different colors and textures due to impurities in the manufacturing process or additives. It can also come in the form of “black tar” a dark brown or black sticky substance. Heroin is often “cut” or diluted by dealers to stretch their supply. Dealers have been known to add anything from sugar to powdered milk. Heroin has also been found with strychnine and various other poisons added. This makes it all the more dangerous. Users rarely know what strength they are getting or what type of additives it may include.
Common slang terms for Heroin:
- China White
- H Bomb
Heroin can be used multiple different ways. Heroin can be injected intravenously or subcutaneously. This is the most powerful and direct method. Heroin can be smoked often using tin foil and a straw. It can be inhaled through the nose or “snorted” and can also be taken orally. Most users report starting with smoking or snorting Heroin and then move onto intravenous use or “shooting up”.
Some of the signs and symptoms of Heroin use are:
- Lack of motivation
- A decline in personal hygiene
- Slurred speech
- Mood swings
- People often become withdrawn from friends and family
- Sleeping all day or for long periods of times
- Runny nose/constant sniffling
- Falling asleep or “nodding off” during the day
- Dark circles around the eyes
- Needle marks on the arms legs or hands
- Skin abscesses or infections
- The presence of drug paraphernalia: needles or needle caps or burnt spoons or foil
- Unexplained money spending or selling of valuables or stealing
Purity or strength of Heroin can vary drastically and one of the greatest dangers of use is “overdose”. Heroin is a sedative and slows breathing and heart rate. When a person takes too much of the drug their heart can stop or they can stop breathing all together. Combining it with other sedatives like alcohol or benzodiazepines can greatly increase the risk of overdose.
Some of the signs of Heroin overdose:
- Slowed or stopped heart rate
- Blue lips or skin
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Weak pulse
When a suspected overdose is or may be occurring it is a 911 situation. Paramedics may be able to administer Naltrexone. Naltrexone is an antagonist and can reverse the effects of Heroin.
When a person uses Heroin on a regular basis he or she begins to develop a tolerance for the drug. Initially what was a small or occasional habit can quickly turn into dependence. Once a person is dependent on the drug they are no longer using it recreationally. They need the drug to function normally and without it will begin to withdrawal or detox.
Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal or Detox:
- Cold sweats
- Difficulty sitting still/restlessness
- Dilated pupils
- Vomiting or dry heaves
- Decreased appetite
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Trouble with sleep or sleeplessness
- Flu-like symptoms
- Skin crawls or goose flesh
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Increased blood pressure and or heart rate
- Heavy breathing
Heroin withdrawals or detox can last anywhere from 5 to 14 days and sub-acute symptoms can last months. Withdrawal can be very dangerous and should always be medically supervised. Medically supervised Heroin detox is often treated with Suboxone. Suboxone is administered as a taper meaning the drug is administered in lower and lower doses over a 7-14 day period. During that time the patient is monitored for vital signs and withdrawal symptoms. C.O.W.S. stands for Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale and is the standard used to assess Heroin and other Opiate or Opioid withdrawal symptoms and progress.
Some of the other risks involved in Heroin use include viral or bacterial infections caused by the use of unclean or unsterile needles. Users often lose jobs or drop out of school and become withdrawn from family friends and life. The internal spiritual and emotional condition of the users is often unbearable. They are often diagnosed with depression, bipolar or with anxiety or personality disorders. Sometimes doctors will suggest a drug substitute or maintenance program like Methadone or Suboxone. These drugs can satisfy the physical cravings for Heroin but often the obsession to change the way they feel drives the user to use other drugs or stop taking the medication and return to Heroin.
Heroin addiction is a terminal illness. It is progressive and without treatment can be fatal. People need to know that treatment can and does work. We treat people with Heroin addiction on a daily basis and have successfully for over 20 years. Call us now at 281-705-3457 and let us be the help you’re looking for.
Understanding Drug Detoxification
- Medical history and physical exam
- Full psychiatric evaluation
- Stabilization planning
- Regimented medication programs
- Vitals monitoring for symptom reduction during the detox process
- Preparation for follow-up treatment and ongoing recovery
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