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10 Most Asked Questions About Heroin
Over the past 20 or 30 years, heroin, PCP, cocaine, crack, crystal meth and pills of all kinds have each had their turn as the top “drug epidemic” news of the day.
However, in the past few years, one of the earlier drugs of abuse has made a startling comeback. Heroin, so prevalent in the 1940s and ’50s, is the latest “drug epidemic” to hit America. And as in those decades past, artists and celebrities and plenty of simple, ordinary people are succumbing to heroin overdoses.
Heroin is dominating the drug news in America. More Americans are dying from opioid overdoses, including heroin, than from motor vehicle accidents – something like 100 people every day. And heroin strikes everyone equally, regardless of age, race or social standing.
The result is that people have started asking a lot of questions about heroin. What is it anyway? Where is it coming from? Why is it killing people?
Here’s the top 10 questions about heroin, and some simple answers we hope you find helpful:
Q1. What is heroin and where does it come from?
This actually is a very interesting story.
Heroin is made from opium, the thick white sap, called latex, that oozes from the seed pods of Papaver somniferum, an Asian flower known world-wide as “the opium poppy.” It’s the only kind of poppy that contains opium. The others in gardens all over the world are quite harmless.
Almost all the heroin in the world originates from the opium poppies grown in Afghanistan. It’s been cultivated for its narcotic properties for well over 5,400 years. Along with alcohol, opium is the oldest, most persistent and most common addictive substance in the world.
During the 19th Century, chemists isolated the two main active ingredients in opium, morphine and codeine. In fact, morphine was the first “active ingredient” ever isolated from a plant. And it since has become the medical “gold standard” for managing severe pain. The second substance was called codeine, also a widely used painkiller but not nearly as strong as morphine.
In 1874, a chemist in England created “diacetylmorphine” from morphine, a substance twice as strong as morphine itself. But that program was abandoned until 1897, when a chemist at the German drug company Bayer re-created diacetylmorphine. Bayer recognized the drug’s medical and commercial potential and trade-marked it as “Heroin” after the German word “heroisch,” meaning “strong and heroic” – great name for something that enslaves people by taking away their power of decision.
Bayer marketed Heroin world-wide as a “non-addictive morphine substitute” and “the best cure for your child’s bronchitis.” Bayer even marketed heroin as “a cure for morphine addiction.” When it was discovered that heroin metabolizes into morphine in the body, making it essentially a super-morphine, Bayer had a bad time living it down. Eventually, heroin was made a controlled substance by every government in the world. Yet still today, morphine is sold under more than 100 trade names.
Q2. How does addiction to heroin happen?
Heroin acts directly on the functioning of the brain and can lead users through three stages:
- Tolerance – over time, more heroin is required to achieve the same effect.
- Dependence – heroin is needed regularly or you get withdrawal symptoms.
- Addiction – the final stage – drug-seeking becomes the primary purpose in life despite obviously negative consequences.
Note that tolerance and dependence can occur without leading to addiction, a situation increasingly common among pain patients taking addictive painkillers.
Q3. Is it true that everyone who tries heroin becomes a heroin addict?
No, that isn’t true. But it has been estimated that roughly one out of every four people – 25 percent – who use heroin for any length of time rapidly become dependent on it. And frequently, dependence rapidly leads to addiction.
Q4. Why is heroin so widely abused? Is it because prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are “gateway drugs” to heroin?
Prescription opiates have certainly played a part in creating the new “heroin epidemic” across America, but primarily as an economic factor. Crackdowns on “pill mills”, crooked doctors and other sources of prescription drug diversions have pushed the street price for pills sky high. Dealers responded by flooding the marketplace with heroin at a fraction of the cost of pills.
Q5. How can I tell it’s heroin and how do abusers use it?
Street heroin comes in several forms – a white or brown powder or a black sticky lump called “black tar heroin.” It’s dissolved and injected, or it’s snorted or smoked. It isn’t true that white powder heroin is more pure than brown or tar. They’re all cut multiple times with foreign substances and are all equally dangerous and addictive.
Q6. What is a heroin overdose and how does it kill people?
Heroin, like all opiates, depresses the central nervous system (CNS) and reduces the automatic processes critical for life – heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing and consciousness – which can lead to death. Many fatal heroin overdoses involve one or more other drugs with similar side effects, such as other opiates, alcohol or benzodiazapines like Xanax. But a heroin user can unknowingly consume heroin that is much stronger (more pure) than he or she is used to, causing an overdose of heroin by itself.
Q7. What can I do if I think someone has overdosed?
This is very straightforward – Call 911! If the person has collapsed or has stopped breathing, put your 911 call on speaker and start CPR immediately. If you or the victim have a naloxone kit, use it immediately. Most kits have the directions for use right on the package. When the ambulance or police arrive, tell them everything you know about the victim and their drug use. It can help save their life.
Q8. What can I do if I know someone is a heroin addict?
If you are personally close enough, try talking to them about seeking treatment. Always stress the positive aspects of recovery, and never the negative aspects of addiction. They already know all the negative stuff. It’s depressing and hearing about it seldom leads to positive decisions.
If you aren’t close enough personally, enlist the aid of professionals. Private drug detox centers like Novus Medical Detox Center are a good starting point for information. Drug rehab centers, hospital drug ward personnel, clergy, and even a cop if you know one personally, can also be good resources.
Q9. Is methadone treatment a good answer for treating heroin addiction?
It may appear that a legally controlled methadone addiction is better than the dangerous life of a heroin addict. But let it be perfectly clear: A methadone program is not treatment. It simply replaces heroin addiction with methadone addiction. And methadone is far more difficult to detox and recover from than heroin itself. So why not just detox and rehab from heroin in the first place? People are successfully kicking heroin every day all across America.
Q10. So, what IS the best way to treat heroin addiction?
A medical detox such as that provided here at Novus is the essential starting point for treating heroin addiction. But detox is only the first step. A long-term rehab program is essential – the longer the better. The usual 30-day rehab is seldom adequate for heroin addiction. And remember that the quality of the detox program plays an important part in the later success or failure of the rehab program. Call Novus to discuss your situation – we’re always here to help.
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