What is Heroin, and What it Does to the Body?

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What is Heroin?

Waismann Method on What is Heroin

Heroin, technically called diacetylmorphine, is approximately two to three times more potent than opium, from which it comes. It has no known medicinal uses and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. The powerful rush that heroin provides to users makes it a common illegally used drug. However, this euphoric feeling also makes it highly addictive and dangerous. When heroin is manufactured, it is a pure white powder that has a very bitter taste when consumed. There is another less common form of heroin called “black tar” due to its resemblance to roofing tar. The white powder is often mixed with other substances, such as cornstarch or sugar to take the edge off of the bitterness. However, because the drug is manufactured and distributed in illegal settings, it can also be mixed with toxic substances like strychnine.

Prevalence of Heroin Use

The use of heroin has been increasing, with approximately 669,000 individuals using it in 2012. During this same period, the number of new users rose to 156,000, which is double the number from 2006.

Heroin Use Methods

Heroin is consumed in a number of different ways, although injection is the most common form of use. It can also be smoked, inhaled, taken orally or anally. Injection is typically preferred over other methods because of the intense and immediate rush that is experienced by users.

Heroin Side Effects

Heroin has a wide array of negative side effects, caused directly by the heroin itself as well as the methods and environments in which is it consumed. The immediate side effects of heroin include an initial feeling of euphoria along with flushing of the skin, a dry mouth and a heavy feeling in the extremities. The feeling of euphoria is a short-term effect of heroin that typically goes away a few hours after consumption. Other effects that are sometimes experienced after heroin use include depression of the respiratory system, constricted pupils and nausea. After the initial effects of the drug wear off, individuals can also feel alternating levels of wakefulness and drowsiness and their mental functions can slow down. Users often describe a feeling of being in a mental fog, due to the effects of the heroin wearing off of the individual’s central nervous system.

The ultimate negative effect of heroin is the risk of overdosing. A heroin overdose is characterized by slow shallow breathing, hypotension, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma and sometimes death. A number of other side effects can occur as a result of the method of consumption and the environment. Some of these include pneumonia, collapsed veins, inflammation of the heart, as well as contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Methods

There are various methods available to treat individuals suffering from heroin addiction. Some of the most common treatment methods include:

  • Residential and Outpatient Drug Rehab – Residential drug treatment centers can vary in length, therapeutic approach, religious beliefs and even gender-specific programs. Many residential programs offer services for a wide range of addictions and psycho-social issues, while others specialize in a specific type of addiction and/or disorder. With outpatient drug treatment programs, the individual is allowed to live at home and meet with counselors and/or doctors on a regular basis.
  • Methadone and Suboxone – Withdrawal symptoms and cravings are often the number one reason for relapse in those suffering from heroin abuse. To minimize the symptoms of heroin withdrawal and cravings, a large number of heroin detox programs utilize replacement drugs such as methadone and Suboxone. The goal of these heroin detox programs is to eventually help heroin abusers gradually wean off these newly introduced drugs while participating in a therapeutic recovery program. However, these drugs are very addictive themselves and have powerful binding effects to the receptors making it very difficult for some patients to achieve the opiate detoxification they were hoping for.
  • Rapid Detox – During rapid detox, patients are placed under sedation in an accredited hospital and administered opioid antagonists that detach the opiates from the neuroreceptors. Patients are also sometimes given medications to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. This method can be an extremely humane, safe and effective way to detox from heroin addiction without experiencing the full effects of the painful withdrawal symptoms when properly administered.

Addiction Is a Health Hazard of Heroin

One of the most dangerous effects of heroin use is that over time, individuals develop a tolerance to the drug. This means that they must take more heroin each time in order to achieve the same feeling of euphoria as the first time. This increased amount causes the body to become physically dependent on heroin, which results in painful withdrawal symptoms if the individual decreases doses or attempts to stop.

Sources
Heroin.  Drugs.com.  Retrieved on April 30, 2015.
Heroin. NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved on April 30, 2015.