In terms of addictiveness, societal damage, and personal harm, heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs in America. Heroin has a long history and a much longer death toll, owing to its addictiveness and its dangers. While not toxic in the conventional sense, heroin is a more powerful derivative of morphine, derived from the ancient opium, the sap of the poppy plant. First isolated by a German chemist over a century ago by accident, heroin has since become a global menace in terms of availability and damage.
Like other opioids, heroin is an incredibly potent painkiller, or analgesic. It was also used as a form of anesthesia before the use of nitrous oxide and local anesthetics, and other opioid derivatives of morphine – including codeine and synthetic opioids like hydrocodone – are still in use medically to fight acute and chronic pain. However, unlike most of these drugs, heroin is much more potent and more addictive.
It’s Important to Get Help Soon
Bar certain synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil, heroin is among the most powerful opioids available. Not only does this make the drug very addictive, but it makes it very dangerous. Most heroin is street heroin, sourced through unsanitary conditions and cut with dangerous chemicals to drive down the price.
Sometimes, heroin is laced with fentanyl to improve potency, and these batches can often be mixed improperly leading to dangerous and fatal overdoses. Long-term heroin abuse leads to malnutrition and severe deficiencies, infectious diseases transmitted through needles or other paraphernalia, brain damage, and death by respiratory arrest. Opioids like heroin cause the heart and breathing to slow down to a standstill, until an overdose causes the brain to die from oxygen deprivation or can lead to paralysis if an overdose is survived.
This makes it important to seek help soon. Not only can you spare yourself or your loved one from a tragic death, but the sooner a heroin addiction is treated, the better your chances of going through recovery at a faster pace. Some people can overcome their addiction in a matter of months, but others take years to fully recover from the addiction.
Treatment Takes Time
There are several approaches to a heroin addiction, but no single best approach. Every individual case is different, and therapists and treatment centers alike work hard to build a treatment plan around every person’s needs, circumstances, and weaknesses. Some have an easier time parting from heroin but need the medical help to do so safely, while others have a lot of emotional and psychological healing to go through before they can find the strength to resist the cravings and live life free from addiction.
In any case, treatment does take time. Time is what makes the cravings slowly go away, and it’s what makes the brain heal. Time is critical for recovery, and it’s important to be patient with yourself and with the treatment.
Recovery is not about quitting a drug – it’s about learning to live without it. This takes time for a lot of people. First comes the adjustment to life while sober, then comes the arduous work put into learning how to stay sober, cope with life, deal with stress, and enjoy living without touching another needle or using another drug.
Why Heroin is So Powerful
When heroin was first created, it was derived from morphine in an attempt to create codeine. By way of a simple mistake, what was supposed to be the creation of a less potent, less addictive drug (codeine) became the synthesis of a more powerful version of morphine, named heroin because of its potency (in reference to heroic strength). It was then sold as a main ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicine.
At the time, morphine was quickly becoming a common recreational drug, and Bayer – the same pharmaceutical company that still exists today – discovered heroin and marketed it as a more potent, less addictive alternative. In reality, heroin was extremely addictive. By the time it was medically available in the United States, it took roughly another ten years to ban the drug completely.
It was too little too late. Heroin addiction was common among artists as well as common folk, and the popularity of the drug prevailed to today. Known medically as diamorphine, or diacetylmorphine, heroin’s potency comes from its chemical structure – it is, quite simply, a more powerful form of morphine, and one of the most powerful natural opioids in the world. All opioids are addictive because they target the brain’s release of dopamine, causing a massive jolt in happiness and euphoria, while simultaneously forcing the brain to cope with this unnatural influx of neurotransmitters. As a result, repeated use of heroin causes the brain to get used to it – and crave it when it goes away.
Treating Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction is treated through medication and therapy. Quitting the drug entirely is difficult – however, medication has been developed to make the process a little safer and/or easier, by helping patients wean off opioids, or by blocking their effects entirely, making it impossible to get high off heroin.
Pure heroin is not toxic but kills because of how it affects the brain and the respiratory system. Therefore, drugs like naloxone can save lives even during an overdose, simply by blocking heroin’s effect on the brain’s cells. However, most street heroin is cut with various contaminants and products, from acetaminophen (paracetamol) to sugar, caffeine, baby formula, and flour. This can sometimes mean cases of heroin overdose require more than naloxone to save a person’s life. Outside of emergency situations, medication used to treat heroin addiction includes:
Behavioral therapy also plays a major role in treating heroin addiction. While medication helps a person taper off the drug and safely go through withdrawal symptoms, behavioral therapy is required to “kick the habit”. Addiction is not something easily turned off or managed through sheer will, but therapy can help people cope with thoughts of relapse and cravings, especially during residential or outpatient treatment.
For a drug like heroin, it’s recommended people go through rehab or sober living homes to completely remove themselves from environments where the drug might be available, so the healing process can be complete, and they can deal with their cravings without caving in.
Since its nationwide ban in 1924, heroin has become a street drug of choice for many people across the globe, and especially in the United States. With heroin being produced locally and coming in from abroad, the opioid crisis first started by an overabundance of prescription opioids and since turned primarily into a problem surrounding heroin. Critical to the current opioid crisis and at fault for thousands of overdose deaths per year, it’s more important now than ever to fully understand what this drug is capable of, and why it’s a priority to get help for a heroin addiction.