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HEROIN FAQs

HEROIN FAQs

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What is the scope of heroin abuse in the United States?

In 2016 there were 948,000 Americans who reported using heroin in the past year, and this number has been on the rise since 2007.  Many of the states that have seen declines in prescription pain medication misuse have seen an increase in heroin abuse. Heroin has been in demand because of tighter regulations surrounding prescription pain medication.  Much of the heroin abuse in the United States is driven by young adults aged 18 to 25, where the most significant increase in use has been seen. The number of Americans using heroin for the first time in 2016 was over 170,000, which is close to twice the amount when compared to 2006.  The heroin use among teens aged 12 to 17 has been on a decline, and past year heroin use among high school students has also been on a decline.  

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive substance that is processed from morphine and is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain poppy plants.  The drug is typically sold as a white or brown powder that is then cut with sugar, starch, powdered milk, or other products. Highly pure heroin can be smoked or snorted, which is more appealing to new users who do not want to start intravenous drug use.  Heroin affects the reward system of the brain and produces a euphoric feeling increasing the levels of dopamine and endorphins within the body. This is part of what causes psychological addiction, which leads to dependency and tolerance creating painful withdrawal symptoms.         

The increase in availability of heroin within the United States has been fueled by several factors, which include the increased production and trafficking of heroin by Mexican drug networks.  Mexican drug cartels are the major suppliers and key producers of most illegal drugs that are smuggled into the United States. In 2017, the nationwide heroin seizures reached 7,979 kg, with more than 39% seized at the southwest border.  There has also been an increase in federal arrests and sentences for heroin-related crimes. The Drug Enforcement Agency made 5,408 heroin-related arrests in 2017, which was up from 2,500 ten years prior. The majority of heroin making its way into the United States is originating in Mexico and to a lesser degree, in Columbia.  Over the past decade, the amount of heroin being seized at the southwest border has increased.

Heroin addiction is a devastating problem that affects countless Americans throughout the country.  When struggling with an addiction to heroin, the proper treatment requires detox and residential drug rehab.  Because of the ongoing opioid epidemic within the nation, there has been more attention placed on treatment for opioid addiction.  Most prescription pain medication addicts will eventually start using heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription pain medication.     

Works cited
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44599.pdf

What are the long-term and short-term effects of heroin addiction?

Heroin is a powerfully addictive opiate made from morphine, which is derived from various types of poppy plants.  When heroin is used, it binds to and activates specific receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors. Everyone has naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate pain and release hormones within the body.  The reward center of the brain stimulates the release of dopamine, and when opioids are introduced the opioid receptors are activated increasing the amount of dopamine being released causing the euphoric effects. The intensity of the effects depends on the amount of heroin being used, and what type of tolerance the drug user already has.    

When heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine and quickly binds to the opioid receptors.  Someone who uses heroin receives a surge of pleasurable effects and intense euphoria. For example, the feeling is a rush that is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling within the extremities.  Heroin users will also experience nausea, vomiting, and severe itching, and after the initial effects, the drug user will feel drowsy for several hours. The drowsiness is followed by a loss of mental function, slow heart rate, and respiratory depression.  Slowed breathing can lead to coma and even death.  

The regular use of heroin does change the physical structure of the brain, causing long-term imbalances affecting the hormonal system.  Some studies have shown a deterioration of the white matter within the brain because of heroin use. Heroin addicts will also struggle to respond to stressful situations and are unable to regulate their behavior.  Heroin abuse produces tolerance and dependency, and physical dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which can be painful and dangerous. When someone stops using heroin, the withdrawal can occur within a few hours.  Withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, anxiety, and depression. Most of the withdrawal symptoms peak after 24 to 48 hours, and medical detox programs are the most effective way to help a heroin addict through a painful withdrawal.  

The signs of heroin addiction include continuing use despite heroin-related problems, trying and failing to quit, having persistent cravings, and building a tolerance leading to dope sickness.  The rush from intravenous heroin use lasts around two minutes. The general effects of heroin use include contentment, reduced anxiety, relieving tension, drowsiness, and apathy. The signs of a heroin overdose include shallow breathing, dry mouth, tongue discoloration, tiny pupils, slow pulse, and bluish lips.  Heroin addiction requires extensive treatment starting with detox, then leading to long-term inpatient drug rehab.

How do you help someone who is addicted to heroin?

There are a variety of effective treatment options for heroin addiction, and it is often a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.  There are many things that a family can do to help, such as learning what they can about the addiction and how heroin works. They can also hold a drug intervention, which is the most successful way to help a heroin addict understand the importance of treatment.  The family should take the time to identify inpatient heroin treatment options and speak to their insurance provider to find out if they have coverage. The intervention process will transport the addict to treatment and ensure they get started on their program. Treating a heroin addiction first requires addressing the physical dependency, which is done through medical detox.   

Heroin creates a strong neurological and psychological impact and essentially rewrites the brain’s perceptions of pleasure, reward and the anticipation of reward.  The medical detox process entails reducing the amount of heroin someone consumes while controlling the withdrawal symptoms. A detox program will not administer heroin to a patient but will provide other medications to alleviate withdrawal pain.  The withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, muscle cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting, cravings for heroin, and suicidal thoughts. Medically assisted detox is essential and is the first step during the treatment process. Inpatient medical detox allows for this type of care.  

Some heroin addicts will try medication-assisted treatment, which is a detox process using suboxone and or buprenorphine during detox and then into therapy.  Medication-assisted treatment services are only effective when done with behavioral therapy. The detox process will often use medication because it is a medically supervised detox.  However, the use of medication during therapy is to help manage cravings, but an addict should explore options when they do not have to rely on drugs. If a heroin addict does not choose medication-assisted treatment, there are inpatient and outpatient drug rehab services across the nation to help.  Residential drug rehab programs provide better treatment options to help someone who is addicted to heroin.    

Residential drug rehab provides everything that a patient will need while at treatment.  Heroin addicts require lengthy treatment to ensure all aspects of the addiction are treated properly.  Outpatient drug rehab can work, but this would depend if the addiction was not severe and did not require long-term inpatient care.  When residential drug rehab is complete, aftercare programs are an excellent option to provide further treatment and time to re-build a life after addiction.  Aftercare programs such as sober living homes can help recovering heroin addicts continue to work on his or her sobriety. Much of this process is finding new work, meeting sober people, and staying connected to peer support groups and other sober people.

Does prescription pain medication misuse lead to heroin addiction?

Heroin abuse in the United States is often higher among those who reported prior nonmedical use of pain medication.  Over 80% of young urban injection intravenous drug users had used pain medication for non-medical reasons prior to using heroin.  Most prescription pain drug users who are misusing the drugs will get them from friends, family, and their personal prescription. Opioid abuse is a growing problem throughout the country, but not every pain medication user switches to heroin.  The National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that less than 4% of people who had abused pain medication started using heroin within five years. Prescription opioid misuse is one fact that leads to heroin abuse, but both prescription opioids and heroin have similar effects.  

One main factor that contributes to the popularity of heroin is the increased availability of heroin and the drug being inexpensive.  Since 2006, the number of heroin users in the United States has nearly doubled, and over 50% of all overdose deaths are opioid-related.  Pain medication and heroin act the same way when someone uses them. Pain medication can also be used intravenously, and there are more potent opioid pain drugs.  The progression to heroin happens because the drug is cheaper and a pain medication addiction becomes expensive. Most states have enacted prescription drug monitoring programs, which means the average addict is buying pain medication from a street-level drug dealer.  Drug addiction is costly and when you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, you are searching for inexpensive ways to get high.  

The annual cost of addiction to heroin is estimated at over $50,000.  Heroin is a heavily manufactured drug, and the price will vary depending on where it is coming from and the type of heroin it is.  A single dose of heroin in the United States can cost from $5 to $20. Severely addicted heroin addicts will spend between $150 to $200 per day to support his or her habit.  The annual cost of a prescription opioid addiction can range upwards of $70,000 plus per year. Millions of Americans have become addicted to pain medication. The average street price of Vicodin is $5 to $25, Percocet is $10 to $15, and one hydrocodone pill will cost between $5 to $20.  One oxycodone pill can cost between $12 to $40, and one oxycontin pill can cost between $50 to $80. The cost of a pain medication addiction also varies depending on the severity of the addiction.  

When someone is prescribed pain medication and begins to misuse the drug, the chances of them becoming dependent on the drug is high.  If they choose to remain on the pain medication, they are faced with the problem of finding a way to stay on it. Most doctors may recognize that you no longer need the pain medication, but some may not, and you will not receive another script.  However, eventually, you will have to obtain the pain medication to fuel your dependency illegally. The prescribing doctor will catch on, and prescription drug monitoring programs make it challenging to doctor shop. Not every pain medication user turns to heroin, but the possibility is always there that opioid addiction progresses to heroin.  Pure heroin can be smoked, which eliminates the use of a needle. Mexican drug cartels have been meeting the increasing demand for heroin within the united states. Both urban and rural areas have been affected. If your addiction to pain medication has progressed into heroin addiction, it is time to get help

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