Heroin Dependency and Its Dangers

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive opiate derivative. It is currently the most abused opiate in society. Heroin is created from morphine, which is extracted naturally from the seed pods of certain poppy plants.[i] Heroin is usually sold in a powder form, either white or brown depending on the purity. It is also sold in a sticky black form, known as black tar heroin. Although heroin has become increasingly pure, most heroin bought on the streets is combined, or “cut,” with other ingredients like starch, powdered milk or sugar. Because it can be combined with anything, addicts have no reliable way of knowing what is in the heroin they purchase. This, along with the risk of accidental overdose and contracting diseases from contaminated needles, makes heroin one of the most dangerous drugs available.

Heroin Basics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 12.3 million Americans ages 12 and older had used heroin at least one time in their lives. Approximately 23 percent of those who use heroin recreationally become dependent on the drug. Heroin can be injected, inhaled or smoked. No matter the method of use, heroin travels to the brain rapidly, producing an intense high. Its fast-acting nature increases the risks of addiction and accidental overdose in users. As the brain becomes dependent on the feelings the drug produces, heroin users display dangerous and often deadly drug-seeking behaviors in their need to get and use more of the drug.[ii]

Medical Complications

Repeated heroin abuse changes the physical structure of the brain and leads to a host of long-term medical problems in those addicted to the drug.

Lung complications, like pneumonia and tuberculosis can result from heroin’s suppression of the respiratory system as well as the overall poor health of the user.[iii] Chronic heroin use can lead to collapsed or scarred veins, bacterial infections and liver/kidney disease. Blood vessels can become blocked due to foreign substances that are combined with heroin bought off the street. One of the biggest health risks to heroin users is accidental overdose. Nearly 1 percent of heroin addicts die each year from overdoses, even if they are long-term users with a tolerance for the drug.

Risk of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

Because heroin can be injected into the bloodstream, addicts often share their used needles. This can easily lead to infections of deadly diseases such as HIV. Sharing drug injection and preparation equipment can expose users to blood infected with HIV and Hepatitis.

According to AIDS.gov, the following practices can also expose drug users to contaminated bodily fluids:[iv]

  • Using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs
  • Reusing water
  • Reusing bottle caps, spoons or other containers (“cookers”) to dissolve drugs into water and to heat drug solutions
  • Reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters (“cottons”) to filter out particles that could block the needle

Nearly a third of the people infected with HIV use injectable drugs like heroin, increasing the risk to those with whom they share drug paraphernalia. In fact, this is the number one way HIV is spread today in America. Heroin use also increases the likelihood of addicts engaging in dangerous behaviors while under the influence of the drug. This include having unprotected sex with HIV infected partners or trading sex for drugs.[v]

Pregnancy

The use of heroin while you are pregnant can have disastrous consequences on your unborn child. Some of these consequences can include miscarriages, premature delivery, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and even the death of the baby. After birth, the likelihood that the child will also have an addiction to heroin is very high. Babies born to heroin-addicted mothers need more time in the hospital in order to wean them from the drug. However, if you are pregnant and try to stop using heroin without medical supervision the risk of miscarriage is dramatically increased.

The March of Dimes lists the following as potential consequences of using heroin during pregnancy:[vi]

  • Birth defects: health conditions that are present at birth that change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body, affecting overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Placental abruption: a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. The placenta supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placental abruption can cause very heavy bleeding and can be deadly for both mother and baby.
  • Premature birth: birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Low birth weight: a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome(also called NAS): when baby is exposed to a drug in the womb before birth and goes through drug withdrawal after birth.
  • Stillbirth: when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome(also SIDS): the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.

If you are pregnant and using heroin, seek professional medical help immediately.

The Canyon

The core of The Canyon’s heroin addiction treatment program is helping you or your loved one develop a positive view of yourself. A variety of traditional and non-traditional treatments and experiences give patients the opportunity to reclaim personal dreams and goals. You or your loved one can reawaken your authentic self and go on to lead a healthy, normal life instead of one controlled by heroin.

At The Canyon, your success is our priority, and we’ll give you all the tools you need to break the cycle of heroin addiction and lead a full life, freed from your addictions.


[i] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin,” November 2014. Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-heroin

[ii] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug Facts-Heroin,” October 2014. Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

[iii] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin,” November 2014. Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-medical-complications-chronic-heroin-use

[iv] AIDS.gov. “How are Drug Use and HIV Related?”, January 1, 2014. Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/prevention/reduce-your-risk/substance-abuse-use/

[v] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “DrugFacts—HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse: Intertwined Epidemics,” May 2012. Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hivaids-drug-abuse-intertwined-epidemics

[vi] The March of Dimes. “Heroin and Pregnancy,” July 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016. http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/heroin-and-pregnancy.aspx#

 

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