The story of heroin: what is it? Where does it come from? How is addiction treated?
Just reading the word “heroin” could raise your eyebrows.
As the United States continues to battle the opioid crisis, heroin continues to find its name in the headlines, usually with a dark cloud over it.
You’ve probably heard of heroin by now. But do you know what it is, where it comes from, and how an addiction is treated?
Let’s take a look.
The facts about heroin
Heroin is usually known as a dangerous, addictive street drug. And that’s true, but there’s more to the story.
According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pods of various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico and Colombia. “
morphine is a drug typically used to treat moderate to severe pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.
heroin dates from 1874when an English chemist synthesized it from morphine. It was first made commercially by Bayer Pharmaceutical Co. in 1898. Heroin was originally intended to be used as a substitute for morphine as it was abused, but heroin was later found to be addicting as well and it was eventually made illegal in the United States.
Although heroin is illegal, it is still abused here in the US and is contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis.
The USA Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Heroin typically comes in a white or brownish powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.
Heroin is sometimes mixed with other drugs or substances such as sugar or powdered milk. In some cases, the person using heroin may not know how much of the actual drug is being taken, which increases the likelihood of an overdose.
On the streets, heroin can be referred to as Big H, Black Tar, Hell Dust, Horse, Smack, and Thunder.
Heroin is classified as a List I substance, which means: There is currently no recognized medical use and the potential for abuse is high.
the Opioid epidemic came in three waves, with the first emerging in the 1990s with the increasing prescription of opioid pain relievers. The second wave began in 2010 when the country saw an increase in deaths from heroin overdose. The third wave began in 2013 and included increased deaths from overdoses from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
From 1999 to 2019, 500,000 deaths from opioid overdose were reported. About 130,000 of them came from heroin.
How is heroin abused and what are the side effects?
Heroin can be abused in many ways.
It is often abused because it creates a feeling of euphoria (well-being, elation or great happiness).
Usually, heroin is sniffed, injected, or smoked. It can also be mixed with other drugs, especially crack cocaine, and the combination is known as a “speedball”.
According to the NIH, “Heroin penetrates the brain quickly and binds to opioid receptors on cells that are found in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure, as well as in controlling heart rate, sleep and breathing.”
In addition to its euphoric effect Heroin can cause too:
- Dry mouth
- Heavy feeling in your arms or legs
- State of consciousness back and forth (being awake) and unconsciousness (fainting)
In the long run, heroin can cause:
- Collapsed veins for those who inject it
- Damaged tissue in the nose for those who snort it
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Heart infections
- Mental disorders
- Insomnia (inability to sleep)
- Lung problems
It is also possible to overdose on heroin, which can be extremely dangerous. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have overdosed on heroin, call 911 right away.
Signs of a heroin overdose can include:
- Slowed down so as not to breathe
- Purple or blue tint of fingernails or lips
- Gurgling noises
- Can’t wake up or speak
- Muscle spasms
- Dry mouth
- Decreased blood pressure
- In some extreme cases, coma
How are heroin overdoses treated?
Put simply, heroin overdoses are dangerous. Heroin can slow breathing and heart rate to such an extent that the person cannot survive without medical attention.
What is known as naloxone (Narcan) is an opioid receptor antagonist that removes all signs of opioid intoxication in order to reverse an opioid overdose. the NIH Says, “Naloxone can quickly restore a person to normal breathing if their breathing has slowed or stopped due to an opioid overdose. But naloxone has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system, and it is not a treatment for opioid use disorders. “
Naloxone is usually given as a nasal spray or injected into the skin, muscle, or veins.
Naloxone works by attaching to opioid receptors, which prevents heroin from activating them.
If you think you or someone you know may have overdosed on heroin, call 911 right away.
How do I know if I’m addicted to heroin?
Recognizing the signs of an addiction can be the first step on the road to recovery.
Signs of heroin addiction are:
- Heroin cravings
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Extreme sensitivity to pain
- Reduced sex drive
- Change of students
- You want to stop using heroin, but you can’t
- Heroin affects work and private life
- Sleep disorder
People who abuse heroin or are dependent on it can also develop tolerance to the drugwhich usually results in them increasing their amount of heroin and using it more frequently.
Suddenly giving up heroin can also develop addicts Withdrawal symptoms. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Muscle or bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Sleep disorder
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Heroin cravings
Withdrawal symptoms can appear a few hours after the last dose.
What other opioids are there?
Heroin is far from the only opioid that can cause addiction.
Other opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Zohydro ER or, when mixed with acetaminophen, vicodin), codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. These opioids are usually given under medical supervision. Abuse (without a prescription or in a higher dose than prescribed) increases the risk of an overdose.
In 2019, nearly 50,000 People in the United States died as a result of an opioid overdose.
If needed, medication can successfully treat opioid addiction.
MAT for heroin and opioid addiction
MAT, also known as drug assisted treatment, is the use of drugs in combination with behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.
According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “There are three FDA-approved drugs for treating opioid addiction: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. All three of these treatments have been shown to be safe and effective in combination with counseling and psychosocial support. “
MAT can also improve survival rates, keep people in treatment, reduce illicit opioid use, increase opportunities to find and keep employment, and improve the birth outcomes of women with substance use disorders.
Unfortunately there are many Myths and misunderstandings about MAT.
The most common is the belief that when someone is treated for an opioid dependence on a substance such as heroin, MAT is simply replacing one drug with another. This is not true. The dosage of medication used will not result in a high, but will help reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and may help heal the brain as it works toward recovery.
A simultaneous disturbance can be detected during the MAT. Many people with addictions do not even know they have a mental disorder. Concurrent disorders are when both a substance use disorder and a mental disorder such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are present. In some cases, diagnosing a co-occurring disorder can help identify the cause of the addiction.
Seeking Treatment with Vertava Health
Here at Vertava Health we know that heroin addiction can affect both the mind and the body. We offer a peaceful, calm environment that is all the comfort you deserve.
With us you will learn to gain or rebuild your self-confidence and to change negative thoughts through psychosocial therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and motivational conversation. Learning to deal with negative thoughts and behaviors can have a positive, lasting impact on you, your path to recovery, and relapse prevention.
If you need a detox, we offer medically attended services to help you relieve pain and withdrawal symptoms while regulating breathing and heart function. Medicines are also available if required. Our drug-assisted treatment (MAT) is used in combination with behavioral therapies to give you a holistic healing experience.
Our alternative forms of evidence-based healing include what is known as adventure and wilderness therapy. This form of therapy will teach you how to survive and thrive in the wild. Not only will this build your skills, but it will also help build the confidence that is vital on your journey. Overall, this form of therapy should give you access to fulfilling activities and work on your self-esteem.
We are here to help
If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, we want you to know that you are not alone. We are there for you around the clock.
Here at Vertava Health, our goal is to help you get your life back. We apply personalized, evidence-based treatments at every level of care and integrate digital health tools to improve clinical outcomes for people with substance use and mental disorders.
To find out more about heroin addiction and the best treatment for you, call 615-208-2941. Calls are strictly confidential.
frequently asked Questions
Where does heroin come from in the US?
While heroin can come from different regions of the world, in the United States heroin typically comes from one specific location. According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), “Heroin use and availability continues to increase in the United States. The occurrence of heroin in combination with fentanyl is also increasing. Mexico remains the top source of heroin in the United States by all available intelligence sources, including law enforcement investigations and scientific data. “
Where does most of the heroin come from?
Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia, meaning it comes from more than one part of the world originates.
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