Heroin

Incredibly addictive, cheap, and very dangerous

Heroin: What You Need to Know

Heroin addiction often begins in the medicine cabinet, and according to studies from the Centers for Disease Control, people who start using opiates in pill form are 40 times more likely to struggle with heroin addiction later on. In many cases, it begins innocently enough. Someone is prescribed pain medication following an injury, an accident, or after a routine surgery. And with the doctor’s blessing, there’s a feeling of safety.

There has been quite a bit of debate surrounding whether powerful painkillers are being prescribed too liberally in the first place. No matter which side someone falls on, however, there are a few rules of thumb: Painkillers are meant to be used temporarily only,  the recommended dosage should never be exceeded, and once the pain has subsided there should be no further refills.

Addiction to prescription drugs is increasingly common, but because they are expensive and require a follow-up doctor’s appointment, heroin, which is cheaper and widely available, becomes an alternative for many who were adamant they would never use illegal drugs. Highly addictive and dangerous, heroin can lead to slow and shallow breathing, cause users to slip into a coma, suffer permanent brain damage, or even die.

How It Works

Despite a litany of harmful side effects, the appeal of heroin lies in the surge of euphoria that’s felt as it binds to opioid receptors in the brain. A feeling of sleepiness and pain relief kicks in as breathing, not to mention heart rate, is slowed. With continued use, the activity in the body’s limbic system is altered. Pain messages transmitted through the spinal cord from the body are also blocked, which reinforces the need for the drug — and more of it — once a tolerance has been built up. Many people also mix heroin with a variety of other drugs, a cocktail that’s even more dangerous for body function.

heroin addiction

The Stats on Heroin

  • On the heels of many states reporting drops in overdose deaths, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the opioid epidemic. Suspected overdoses increased by 42% in May 2020 compared with a year earlier.
  • A recent study shows that nearly twice as many people in the United States used heroin in 2018 than in 2002.
  • Heroin injections increased from 0.09% in 2002 to 0.17% in 2018.
  • Overdose deaths involving heroin have increased by nearly five times since 2010 (from 3,036 in 2010 to 14,996 in 2018).
  • The opioid mortality rate contributed to three straight years of decline in life expectancy in the United States between 2015 and 2017. The last time comparable statistics were reported was in the 1960s.
  • The vast majority of those who overdose on opioids are non-Hispanic white Americans, who made up more than 75% of the annual total in 2018. Black Americans and Hispanic Americans accounted for about 13 and 9% of cases, respectively.

Effects of Heroin

  • Weakens heart valves
  • Affects breathing and heart rate
  • Blocks pain messages transmitted through the spinal cord
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in the extremities
  • Severe itching
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased risk of infection from sharing needles
  • Frequent drowsiness
  • Mood swings
  • Weight loss
  • Incoherent speech
  • Track marks on arms
  • Financial challenges
  • Painful withdrawal symptoms

Help for Heroin Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, we’re here for you. Dr. Claudia Black, the clinical architect of our treatment program, has decades of experience working with family systems and addictive disorders. Her leadership and our entire team’s professional, compassionate approach have helped many young adults find freedom, hope, and a healthy path forward.

“Heroin addiction often begins in the medicine cabinet, and, according to studies from the Centers for Disease Control, people who start using opiates in pill form are 40 times more likely to struggle with heroin addiction later on.”

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