Heroin usage has devastating effects on family relationships and the economy, costing several billions of dollars per year in law enforcement and treatment. Even though the number of users remains relatively low, 15,000 people died from heroin overdose in 2018.
The cost of opioid prescriptions has been on the rise, and heroin is the cheaper alternative. Unfortunately, heroin misuse causes health and societal risks, like:
- Hepatitis C
- Fetal syndrome
- Domestic violence
- Delayed education
- Workplace disruptions
In 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health said that 948,000 Americans used heroin in 2016. The trend is being led by young people between the ages of 18 to 25, with 170,000 people using heroin for the first time in 2016.
Heroin usage is no longer confined to urban centers, but suburbs and rural areas contribute to the rise of heroin in the younger population.
The Poppy Plant
Heroin comes in different forms. It can be clear, brown, black-tar, or white powder.
Heroin comes from the blossomed poppy plant, also known by its scientific name, Papaver Somniferum. It is an herb that typically grows between two feet to five feet tall.
The poppy plant has approximately four to eight large, beautiful petals that come in several varieties like purple, pink, blue, red, or white. After three months of planting, the poppy plant is ready for harvesting.
During harvest, the petals drop to the ground, and the thick seed pod becomes exposed to the farmer.
When close to ripening, the seed pod oozes a thick creamy white milky substance. Next, the substance turns into a more viscous brownish-black substance. The farmer will harvest the substance, turning it into cakes and balls, ready for shipment. This black gummy substance is raw opium, which is composed of 10% morphine.
Labs will turn the raw opium into heroin by adding two acetyl groups to the chemical composition. By altering the chemistry of raw opium, a user will get an immediate high since the opioid receptors will attach to the brain’s neurons at a faster pace.
Heroin More Powerful Than Morphine
Heroin is two to three times more potent than morphine. However, once the heroin enters the brain, it is turned back into morphine, which comes from opium. Afghanistan makes 80% of the world’s opium. The rest of the supply comes from Asian countries like Burma, Thailand, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
Typically, shipments to the USA come from Latin America and Columbia. Other places like Europe, Asia, China, America, and Russia receive vast shipments of heroin annually.
Most Columbian heroin is prevalent west of the Mississippi River, and Mexican heroin, a black and sticky substance, is found in abundance east of the Mississippi delta.
The Columbian white, odorless powder heroin is much stronger and purer than the black-tar heroin from Mexico. Subsequently, since the early 2000s, Mexico has ramped up the production of heroin; Meanwhile, Columbia has decreased its cultivation of the poppy plant.
Users, on average, snort Columbian heroin. At times, users may inject heroin directly into the bloodstream.
Once users purchase heroin on the streets, its purity may be between 11% and 72%. The average purity rate of white powder heroin is 38%.
The Street Names for Heroin
People know heroin on the street by many names. Some of these names include:
- Black tar
- Tootsie roll
- Hell dust
- Big H
Users “shoot” or “bang” heroin into their veins with the supplies of a syringe, cotton ball, spoon, and a cigarette lighter. The user will bend the spoon and place it directly on a flat surface. The heroin is placed on the spoon with water.
When ready for use, the substance will be melted with a lighter to remove any impurities with the aid of the cotton ball. Later, the user will inject the heroin into the bloodstream for a rush high. Users may enjoy setting up the heroin for use, as much as the heroin itself.
Besides injecting heroin, users can smoke it or inhale it. The paraphernalia used for smoking include:
- Aluminum foil
A person would place the raw heroin on aluminum foil, then heat the heroin underneath with a cigarette lighter or a candle. Afterward, a person would inhale the smoke from the heroin with a straw. Heroin in pure form can be snorted through the nose with a straw or rolled dollar bill.
How Heroin Affects the Brain
Once heroin turns into morphine as it contacts the brain, it acts as an endogenous opioid. The neurotransmitters are enkephalins and endorphins that regulate bodily functions like pain relief, mood, and sedation inside the brain. The morphine molecule fits right into the neurotransmitters to alter brain chemistry and reaction speed.
With heroin usage, the brain may cease making the necessary dopamine, a natural opioid regulating the brain’s biological risk/reward system. The brain may also stop making other neurotransmitters like serotonin after each artificial heroin dose.
Going without heroin can be devastating for users. For so long, users may have been chasing that artificial high. Nothing that the user does can replicate that initial high. The overwhelmed brain receptors cannot reproduce the sense of happiness and contentment from the first heroin hit.
The user may find himself or herself chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, unable to locate it ever again. To find increased happiness, users must try heroin at ever stronger dosages. Afterward, users see that they cannot live without heroin and may attempt self-harm or suicide.
Work and home life balance become inverted since heroin corrupts the everyday contentment and happiness in life. The withdrawal process may be incredibly cumbersome, with some users unable to cope with the side effects and reach again for the drug. The narcotic bliss leads to an ever-deepening and widening drug addiction.
Overdosing and Brain Damage
After injecting heroin, users feel a sense of euphoria followed by a state of happiness, wakefulness, and being in a dream-like state. The mouth becomes dry, and there is a heavy sensation in the legs.
What are the long-term effects of heroin use?
New users, under intense peer pressure, may experience vomiting when injecting heroin for the first time. It may take several tries before the person enjoys the pleasant effects of heroin.
On the downside, of those who use heroin, 23% will develop a dependency. When attempting withdrawal, a regular user may experience:
- Cold sweats
- Hot & Cold flashes
- Increased pulse
- Intense cravings
- Bruises at places of injection
Typical users will feel the onset of withdrawal symptoms four to eight hours after the last injection. If a heroin user overdoses, the pupils will dilate, breathing becomes subdued, and the user may go into a coma. In extreme cases, there is brain damage and death.
Heroin Cutting Agents
To increase the feeling of euphoria, drug dealers may mix the heroin with other illegal pain-numbing narcotics. The purer forms of heroin are diluted with other substances like:
- Baby powder
- Powdered milk
While the above substances are somewhat harmless, if you use heroin mixed with these substances, it may pose a risk to your health.
- Rat Poison
- Over-the-counter painkillers
These substances may inhibit overdosing symptoms, but they will not prohibit the overdose reaction to heroin.
The psychoactive opiate ingredients of diamorphine or diacetylmorphine that compose heroin make this substance highly addictive. To maintain the same level of euphoria, users must increase the dosage. One of the more popular cutting agents is fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 30 to 50 times more potent and dangerous than heroin. According to the DEA, pure fentanyl can be hazardous to the touch. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency. From 2013 to 2014, there was an average of 700 deaths annually.
Opioid overdose can cause respiratory issues and severe depression as it depresses your central nervous system.
Other mixed substances do not entirely dissolve inside the heroin, leading to hardened arteries, heart and liver damage, and heart attacks.
Here is a list of additional cutting agents:
- Methamphetamines: A stimulant that is mixed with heroin causes a relaxing rush of euphoria. Meth injected with heroin into the bloodstream is dangerous to your health.
- Local anesthesia: Heroin is sometimes cut with xylocaine, which doctors and dentists use for medical purposes. Local anesthetics are dangerous since they can have a terrible effect on your health, including potential allergens in the mixture.
- Black Tar Heroin: This substance comes from Mexico and is relatively crude. There is no way of knowing what the blackish-brown substance is mixed with regularly. The substance is much less unrefined as compared to white powder heroin.
If raw opium is not available, chemists can take prescription painkillers, like oxycodone, and turn it into heroin from a home lab. Any forms of street heroin you may purchase could contain contaminants from the manufacturing process:
- Calcium oxide
- Hydrochloric acid
- Acetic anhydride
Unfortunately, rat poison or strychnine is also used to cut heroin. Strychnine can cause severe physiological and psychological damage like:
- Muscle spasms
- Jaw tension
- Rigid legs
- Startled response
Drug dealers may sometimes use fillers to bulk up the white powder heroin. Most of these fillers are harmless. Dealers may add quinine to white powder heroin, which has a bitter taste. Substances like black shoe polish and black dirt are used to cut black-tar heroin.
According to the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, with repeated heroin use, the grey matter density inside the brain’s frontal cortex is decreased, affecting higher levels of learning and thinking where vital information is processed in recollection and understanding. The long-term effects of heroin usage include:
- Collapsed veins
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Viral infections
- Blood clots
Over time, heroin usage destroys those regions of the brain. A person may then have difficulty handling stressful situations, and the ability to make significant decisions is diminished. Before this condition affects a person, it is necessary to obtain emergency treatment.
Heroin Use Disorder
Several therapies are available to treat heroin use disorder. When you stop using heroin for a few hours, you may experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Physicians can administer three types of drugs to decrease cravings and lessen the effects of opioid withdrawal while you undergo detoxification:
- Methadone: makes the opioid high less intense
- Buprenorphine: reduces opioid cravings
- Naltrexone: blocks the action of the opioids
In addition to the medication treatment, the clinician assigned to you will use behavioral therapies for inpatient or outpatient treatment to reduce dependency on heroin.
Treatments restore normalcy to the brain, and patients can return to their regular duties and outside employment. Most treatments are covered with insurance.
Granite Recovery Centers
For more than 10 years, we have helped New England residents recover from the devastating consequences of drug and alcohol dependency. Our New Hampshire facilities are equipped to help you rest as you seek treatment from a life full of uncertainty.
Our inpatient facility has full medical resources for 24/7 care. We offer private and semi-private rooms where you can detox in relative comfort. We take care of the whole person with nutritional and physical support. Patients in residential care will have access to recreational activities for a full recovery. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Evidence-Based Treatment That Works
Licensed professionals assist in psychotherapeutic approaches that seek to alter and reprogram thoughts and behaviors that lead to a substance use disorder. Treatments are specialized for every person. Clinicians may use several techniques so that you can recover in a safe environment:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Trauma, Grief, and Loss Therapy
In addition to the 12-step curriculum, behavioral treatment uncovers the triggers and the underlying sources of addiction. With successful 30, 60, and 90 day behavioral and counseling treatment programs, patients walk the chosen path for a successful recovery.
We also have an intensive outpatient program with sober living homes. Recovery is challenging, but it will be worth it. Contact us today for immediate help, and we will be delighted to address your concerns at 855-712-7784.