Heroin is an opiate drug that is derived from the resin in the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. When the sticky, milky resin is first removed from the seed pod it is in the form of opium, but after a refining process, it is turned into morphine, which can then be further refined to create heroin. All opiate drugs are highly potent and highly addictive, and heroin is no exception.
From Opium to Morphine to Heroin, and Beyond
Opium first made its way to the United States in the early 1800s, care of Chinese immigrant workers who arrived in response to the gold rush. Opium use caught on quickly and by the mid 1800’s opium addiction had become a major problem across the country. However, instead of simply taking action to try and eradicate the use of this dangerous drug substance, scientists were intrigued by the problem of trying to preserve the pain-relieving benefits of opium while also reducing its potent and addictive nature. Morphine was born of these efforts, and unfortunately became an even bigger problem than opium. The Bayer pharmaceutical company further refined morphine, intending to create a helpful drug that could be used both in the treatment of tuberculosis-related pain as well as in the treatment of morphine addiction, and they created heroin in 1898. Heroin soon proved to be more potent and addictive than its parent drug, and unfortunately just another link in an apparently never-ending chain of substitute opiate drugs. Another opiate derivative, methadone, was developed in 1937 for use as a surgical painkiller and to aid with heroin addiction problems. Like all those that came before it, methadone has also earned the reputation of being more addictive than its parent drug.
How Heroin is Used
Heroin is most often distributed as a white to dark brown, gray or even black powder. The whiter the powder, the purer the heroin. It can also be sold as a black, sticky substance, commonly referred to as black tar heroin, which is usually ingested through smoking. Powdered heroin can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Individuals who begin by snorting heroin often find that they are driven to inject the drug in order to obtain faster, better highs. Needless to say, injecting heroin increases the risks and dangerous side effects of the drug, including abscesses, infections and HIV/AIDS.
However heroin is ingested, it enters the bloodstream and very rapidly makes its way to the brain, which is the main reason it is so highly addictive. Once in the brain, heroin is converted back into morphine, which binds to opioid receptors. These receptors are responsible for the communication of pain, the functions of important body systems like the heart and lungs, and the stimulation of desirable sensations like pleasure and reward. As a result, an individual who consumes heroin often feels impervious to pain as well as a euphoric rush and a slowing of their heart rate and respiration.
Heroin Use in the United States
The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that more than one hundred fifty thousand individuals across the country admitted to the use of heroin, though other estimates indicate there may be far more. Roughly eighteen percent of all drug rehabilitation treatment center admissions are for the treatment of opiate drug abuse and addiction, which includes heroin abuse and addiction.
The Undesirable Effects of Heroin Use
It is normally the short-lived euphoric high produced by heroin use that drives individuals to continue using this drug substance. However, most users also experience a warm skin flush, a dry mouth and sometimes even vomiting or severe itching. In many cases, a heroin user will go “on the nod” shortly after taking a hit, becoming extremely drowsy and even nodding off suddenly.
Mere hours after an individual experiences the weakening of heroin’s effects, they crave more of this potent drug. Failure to consume more heroin leads to punishment in the form of withdrawal symptoms like restlessness, severe muscle and bone aches and pains, diarrhea, vomiting and general malaise. Additionally, an individual who consumes heroin can experience reduced respiration, clouded mental functioning, nausea, general sedation, drowsiness, hypothermia, collapsed veins, decayed teeth, gum inflammation, constipation, cold sweats with goosebumps, uncontrolled kicking movements, severe itching, weakened immune function, respiratory illnesses, muscular weakness, sexual problems, impotence in men, menstrual disturbance in women, loss of memory, reduced intellectual performance, introversion, depression, pustules on the face, loss of appetite, insomnia, coma and even death due to overdose-related complications, such as severely reduced respiration and heart rate.
A Dangerous Game
Many individuals genuinely believe that there is no harm in trying a drug “just once”. Unfortunately, they are very wrong in this belief, especially when it comes to such a potent and addictive drug substance as heroin. Even a single hit of heroin can effectively start the individual on the road to heroin dependence and addiction problems because this drug moves so quickly into the brain and produces such immediate and marked effects. Assuming that a single hit of heroin can’t possibly hurt is like assuming that dancing around in crimson before an ill-tempered bull can’t possibly lead to any harm – one is playing with fire and likely to be burned.
An individual who becomes addicted to heroin may find that their entire life revolves around obtaining, using and recovering from this drug substance, at the cost of everything else that once mattered dearly to them. They may even come to realize that heroin has completely taken over and destroyed their life, and they want to be free from this terrible drug, but they are trapped for fear of experiencing the extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that rear their ugly heads every time the amount of heroin in their system even dips slightly.
Handling Heroin Addiction
It is possible to successfully take one’s life back from heroin addiction, but this should never be done alone or without medical supervision. The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be very difficult to cope with, and is often what drives an individual to remain trapped in heroin addiction indefinitely, despite a strong desire to achieve sobriety. The right detoxification treatment program can aid the individual in withdrawing and detoxing from heroin as safely and comfortably as possible, stabilizing their physical health and condition so that they can then work through a full rehabilitation treatment program and resolve all of the causes and effects of their heroin use.
A proper heroin rehabilitation treatment program will include a detoxification program to rid the individual’s body of residual heroin toxins, counseling services to help the individual get to the root of their initial heroin use and begin repairing the damages caused by their heroin use, drug education to help the individual understand the true nature of drugs and their effects, life skills education to help the individual gain the skills and abilities they need in order to successfully cope with the challenges and difficulties of normal life without turning to drug use, and aftercare services to help the individual smoothly transition back into their normal life environments and routines while maintaining their hard-won sobriety. There is no doubt it will take time, patience and great discipline, but the individual will be highly rewarded when they are able to move forward into a healthier, happier future that is entirely heroin-free.