By Lori Ellis, Clinical Director – LICDC –
Rural America, which had seen practically non-existent heroin usage a few decades ago, has been seeing heroin usage spike exponentially to unprecedented highs. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, most heroin use in the US was contained to inner-metropolitan areas. These areas were, and still are, the hubs for organized crime and black markets, but as the supply and demand of heroin has increased and the methods of transportation have advanced, the abuse of this drug has reached nearly all corners of America, including the Tri-State Area.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, recent studies suggest a shift from injecting heroin to snorting or smoking because of increased purity and the misconception that these forms of use will not lead to addiction. Tri-State officials report that heroin overdose cases are becoming all too common in local communities.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for heroin include smack, H, skag, and junk.
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases.
Short Term Effects of Heroin Use
Generally, the effects of using heroin set in rapidly, but it all depends on the method of delivery. Snorting or smoking heroin typically requires 10 to 15 minutes for the drug’s full effects to be felt. Injecting heroin is a much faster method of ingesting heroin. It takes 5 to 8 minutes for an intra-muscular heroin injection to set in, while it takes all of 7 to 8 seconds for an intravenous injection to take effect. For most first time users, nausea and vomiting is common.
For those smoking or shooting heroin, a short period of intense pleasure called a “rush” sets in, followed by a sense of contentment and a state of physical relaxation, both of which are indicators of a heroin high. This “high” usually lasts three to four hours. Aside from the usual euphoria that accompanies heroin use, the user also alternates between alertness and drowsiness. There is a certain degree of dryness in the mouth, and the skin appears flushed and feels warm. Heroin also slows breathing, and muscles generally feel weak. In this state, any problems or issues the user has in their life seem to melt away.
As the immediate effects of heroin slowly dissipate, the user might start feeling irritable. Depression from heroin use is also quite common. For many users, the only way to get rid of these non-pleasurable sensations and regain the “high” is to start doing heroin again. It doesn’t take much for a heroin user to become a full blown heroin addict, especially when the user develops a tolerance to the drug and starts to take more in order to get that same high.
Long Term Effects of Using Heroin
Heroin addiction has its price, and that price is pretty steep. There are so many long-term physical effects of heroin use. For one, constant heroin use causes the brain to reduce or even stop producing its own endorphins. When this is the case, the addict’s body becomes barely capable of managing small amounts of pain or discomfort. This inability is especially magnified in the early stages of heroin withdrawal, making early recovery or heroin detox a particularly difficult exercise. Once heroin detoxification is done, the brain usually starts producing endorphins again. However, the damaging effects of heroin on the brain could take years to recover from.
Its could also lead to liver disease, heart ailments, blood pressure issues, pulmonary problems, weight loss and collapsed veins. The risk of infection is also very high, especially those who inject heroin with shared needles. A number of people who have AIDS and hepatitis C contracted their diseases this way.
The long-term psychological effects of heroin use are also great. It is very common for heroin addicts to find it hard to concentrate, learn anything new, or even organize a clear thought. Personal relationships also take a beating due to heroin, as heroin addicts tend to become apathetic and unmindful of the consequences of their addiction to heroin. Worst of all, heroin triggers highly irresponsible and self-destructive behavior in constant users, especially when they resort to criminal acts to get their next heroin fix.
In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs.
Tolerance, Addiction, and Withdrawal
With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped.
Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, kicking movements, and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered much less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal.
There is a broad range of treatment options for heroin addiction, including medications as well as behavioral therapies. Science has taught us that when medication treatment is integrated with other supportive services, patients are often able to stop heroin (or other opiate) use and return to more stable and productive lives.
So what can we do to stop the outbreak of heroin use? If you suspect one of your friends or family members may be using heroin, look for the signs of usage. The user will have a dry mouth and his or her skin will flush. Look at his eyes: are his pupils constricted? Ask him how he feels. The user will feel heavy and dopey and may fade in and out of wakefulness. Heroin users may nod off suddenly. Breathing will be slowed, which is how an overdose kills.
Don’t be afraid to act or confront him if you spot any of these symptoms. It may just be the key to salvaging his life and keeping your community together.
For more information on this topic or to help someone addicted to heroin contact Spectrum Outreach at (866) 899 – 0028. Call today, we can help.
Clinical Director – LICDC
With more than 25 years of experience, Lori is invaluable to anyone seeking assistance for themselves or a loved one. She has played a vital role in helping many people throughout the community along their life’s journey. Lori is compassionate and dedicated to helping others, making her an important team member at Spectrum Outreach. If you or someone you love could benefit from any of the services offered by Spectrum Outreach, please don’t hesitate to call. Lori hopes that everyone, no matter their personal circumstances, realizes that help is always available; Spectrum Outreach turns no one away.
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