Heroin: From Papaver somniferum the “Flower of Joy” to the Most Abused Opiate in America
Heroin is the most abused and most rapidly acting drug of the opiate class, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It is estimated that 3.7 million Americans have used heroin at one point.
Originally developed as a possible alternative to morphine in 1874, heroin was legal until 1914 when its addictive properties were firmly established. Today, heroin is a Schedule I narcotic with no known medical utility. Heroin is derived from naturally occurring morphine secreted from certain varieties of poppy plants. Pure heroin is a white powder. Most heroin on the street varies from a light to dark brown depending on impurities left over from the manufacturing process. Black tar heroin found mostly in the west and southwestern states is often very unrefined with many impurities.
Many heroin users did not start out on heroin. Data shows that traditional pain medication such as Percocet and Oxycontin addiction often leads to heroin use. Demand for these drugs causes increased prices and many of the people addicted to these pain medications will switch over to heroin due to it’s cheaper price. The rise in heroin use in the last twenty years has correlated with an increase in purity and a decrease in price. Current purity levels are such that smoking, snorting and intramuscular injections are possible administration methods in addition to intravenous us, which is the most common route of use. With fears of diseases associated with intravenous drug use, a large portion of new users are smoking or snorting the drug. This is the usual route with a new heroin user. Data suggests that users may progress from inhalation to injection as tolerance levels demand higher drug potency and users soon realize that they can get the same effect with a much smaller amount when they “shoot it” into a vein.
NIDA research suggests that all administration forms are addictive, but differ in time of onset of drug potency. The “euphoria” associated with heroin use is short-lived and immediate. The temporary high results in average users injecting up to four times a day. However brief, heroin’s effects are immediate. Intravenous administration can result in a high being achieved in seven to eight seconds. The rapidity of drug action in crossing the blood-brain barrier is one of the reasons for heroin’s highly addictive nature. Continued use builds a high level of tolerance and physical dependence/addiction, which are powerful factors motivating addiction.
Chronic heroin use results in increased tolerance and severe physical addiction. Tolerance issues may be one reason that for the majority of heroin users, heroin is not the only substance they abuse. Sixty-one percent of people admitted to public facilities admitted to secondary substance abuse. Most commonly heroin use was combined with cocaine—40% and benzodiazepine use.
Beyond tolerance, medical complications of heroin use include the consequences of intravenous injection like collapsed veins, bacterial infections which can lead to blood infections and loss of limbs, liver and kidney disease, and transmittable infections like hepatitis B and C and HIV. They also include lung and respiratory problems, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. Additives in street heroin range from sugar or starch to quinine, strychnine or fentanyl other poisons, which further escalates risks to drug users. Many heroin dealers will sell heroin mixed (cut) with crushed Benzodiazepines, Benadryl, etc. These additives still give a “high”, and they are cheaper and add more volume to the heroin so the dealer makes more money. Many heroin users are unaware that they are also addicted to Benzodiazepines, which can be a life threatening withdrawal.
Heroin withdrawal can be a painful process. Symptoms typically begin within a day of discontinuing use and include profuse sweating, malaise, mood disturbances including irritability and thoughts of suicide, chills, muscle aches, insomnia, vomiting, abdominal cramps, weakness, shivering or trembling, yawning, convulsions, dehydration, diarrhea, leg kicking and severe anxiety. However, the detoxification treatment with our Rapid Drug Detox Method along with the use of the opiate blocker, Naltrexone, provide hope for individuals who suffer from heroin use and for those around them.