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Heroin Abuse

Heroin is an illicit and very powerful drug. It is also known to be the most abused and the most swiftly acting of all the drugs in the opiate family. Produced from morphine, heroin is a naturally occurring substance derived from the seedpod of specific varieties of poppy plants. Heroin is generally sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance (street name “black tar heroin”). Since heroin abusers are unaware of the real strength of the drug or what it really contains, they stand a high risk of overdose or death.  Heroin abuse poses specific problems because of the transmission of HIV, and hepatitis B and C that can occur from sharing needles or other injection devices.

The largest heroin user groups in most survey results continue to be older users (over 30).  However, the United States has seen a rise in new, young users who are being lured by inexpensive, high-purity heroin that can be sniffed or smoked rather than injected. These days, the typical heroin addict is a white, middle-class teenager. Heroin abuse is associated with severe health problems, including overdose. Hardcore users may develop collapsed veins, heart lining and valves infection, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Additionally, the abuser can develop different types of pneumonia, resulting from poor health, as well as from heroin’s harsh effects on the respiratory tract. Furthermore, along with all these adverse effects, street heroin often contains toxic ingredients that are capable of clogging the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This often results in permanent damage to vital organs.

Heroin abuse often leads to physical dependence, where the body has adapted to the drug; it has become accustomed to it being there. Therefore, if a heroin abuser suddenly stops using heroin or reduces her dosage, she may undergo severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can start as soon as a few hours after the drug was last taken, and may manifest as restlessness, muscle and bone aches, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, “kicking the habit” leg movements, plus other symptoms. During withdrawal, the abuser may also undergo severe craving for heroin, causing continued heroin abuse and/or relapse. Generally, the major withdrawal symptoms heighten around 48 and 72 hours after the last dose, and then subside about a week later. Some individuals, however, may reflect continuous withdrawal symptoms for months. Heroin withdrawal is generally considered to be less perilous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal; still, sudden withdrawal by chronic heroin users who are suffering from poor health can be fatal.

During pregnancy, an expectant mother who abuses heroin will show signs of poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care. This can consequently result in the baby being born with low birth weight, and possible overall developmental delay. If the mother is suffering from severe heroin abuse, when the child is born, he or she may be physically dependent on heroin, resulting in severe medical complications, which ultimately requires hospitalization.

To avoid these unfortunate consequences, individuals who are dependent on heroin should seek immediate help from a treatment facility.

www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov