Heroin Addiction

Heroin, sometimes misspelled heroine, was first produced in the 1870s by using morphine as a substrate. Morphine is found naturally in the poppy plant. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate, since it is produced from a naturally occurring opiate. The most common use for heroin is for recreational purposes. However, it is also approved in certain countries for pain relief and for the long-term treatment of opiate addiction. For those who who have a heroin addiction, it can be used intravenously, by smoking, subcutaneously (injected under the skin, a.k.a. skin popping), by suppository (anal or vaginal), by insufflation (snorting), or orally.

When taken by mouth, heroin is converted to morphine. The oral use of heroin by heroin addicts does not produce the typical “rush” that one gets when using the drug by other routes. The faster the route of administration and the higher the dose used, the more likely one will quickly become addicted to heroin, both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately, the veins for long-term heroin addicts become inaccessible, due to the destruction of the venous system. Heroin users also get frequent abscesses, skin problems, and can develop severe lung and heart problems, both due to infections and to other substances that are added to the heroin powder. Heroin addiction picked-up in the U.S. during the late 1950s and early 1960s. But, eventually it’s popularity declined when unique designer drugs came onto the market. However, heroin abuse one again peaked in the 1980s. By the 1990s, prescription opiates were widely available and replaced heroin as a drug of choice. But, in the 2000s, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other government agencies put in place tighter controls and penalties for the prescription and distribution of prescription pain pills. As such, the U.S. has seen a recent surge in the use of heroin, one again.

Particularly gruesome is the fact that the heroin powder found on the street is frequently mixed with carfentanil or fentanyl. Both drugs are very potent opiates and are much stronger than heroin.Since the heroin user does not know the potency of the mixture, heroin deaths from opiate overdose have greatly increased over the past few years.

Regardless of the drug used, opiate addiction is a serious mental health disorder and requires expert treatment to overcome.

Like addiction to Oxys, hydrocodone, Percocet, and Vicodin addiction, a heroin addict will develop tolerance and will need more and more of the drug to produce the wanted high. Because of the high doses used and the uncertainty of the potency, the use of street heroin is particularly dangerous. Another caveat, is that once one has undergone heroin detox, either due to the unavailability of the drug or from entering a drug detox, their tolerance will decrease. Should a relapse occur, the heroin addict is at extreme risk of overdose, because they may attempt to use the same amount as before. Since they no longer have tolerance, a rapid demise is possible.

Street names for heroin include:

  1. Dope
  2. Smack
  3. J
  4. Junk
  5. Horse
  6. Brown

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Typical symptoms of heroin addiction are frequent nodding off, needle marks on the skin, infections (including HIV and Hepatitis C), the inability to manage finances, job loss, and relationship difficulties. It is also likely that a heroin addict will become malnourished and may become homeless. Some turn to illegal activities, such as theft, robbery, prostitution, or illicit drug dealing to supply the funds for their habits. U.S. prisons are highly populated with heroin addicts, along with those who are addicted to crack cocaine. Heroin is particularly addictive, as is morphine.

When given a choice, opiate addicts tend to prefer heroin or morphine, versus hydrocodone, fentanyl, or oxycodone. This is likely due to the large amount of drug entering the brain at once, which produces the infamous “rush” associated with heroin use. Remember, heroin is not dangerous when used appropriately and for medical reasons, under supervision. But, because it is so addictive, the U.S. made heroin and cocaine illegal in 1914. These two drugs were only made illegal for recreational purposes, but they could still be prescribed for medical purposes. Although cocaine can still be legally prescribed for medical purposes, heroin was completely banned in 1924.

An interesting note is that approximately 20% of U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war became addicted to heroin. They were detoxified prior to their return to the U.S. It has been reported that only about 5% of the addicted soldiers returned to heroin use. However, for those who became addicted to heroin while home in the U.S., the relapse rate approaches 95%. It seems that addiction is highly tied to environmental and social factors.

In Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which is a self-help group for those with narcotic addiction issues, such as heroin abuse, it is commonly said that one must change people, places and things. When used by the I.V. route, common terms for heroin use are banging, shooting up, jacking up, and slamming. Afghanistan seems to be the biggest producer of heroin and produces over 80% of the world’s supply of it. Burma is also a large producer of heroin. Both countries cultivate large crops of the opium poppy, and its extracts are then used to produce heroin. Thailand, Vietnam and Laos also produce a fair amount of heroin.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

The treatment of heroin addiction is complex and multifaceted. Prevention by education and law enforcement is on the front lines of battling the addiction. Harm reduction by opiate replacement therapy, replacing heroin for methadone or Suboxone, has also been effective, as has needle exchange programs and making naltrexone available for opiate users and their companions. Some countries have established safe injection sites where a user can go to safely inject the drug, under supervision and with clean equipment. The soundest medical treatment for heroin addiction is abstinence. By entering an inpatient or residential drug detox, one can completely rid themselves of opiates. This method, however, must be followed by drug rehab to be effective. Most likely, it will be recommended that the newly detoxed heroin addict transfer to an inpatient or residential drug rehab, rather than an outpatient drug rehab because the relapse rate for heroin addiction is high. The National Addiction Institute can assist you or a loved one in locating appropriate heroin addiction treatment and can also answer any questions you have about heroin addiction.