Heroin addiction has become a significant problem in America, seeping across all demographic boundaries of location, income, education, race, ethnicity, and gender. In 2015, around 2 million Americans were known to be addicted to prescription opioids, with 600,000 – or 30% – addicted to heroin.

Heroin is an opioid-based drug and one of the deadliest drugs in the country.

It has absolutely no medical purpose, is illegal to manufacture and also to sell, buy and use. It is one of the most commonly associated opioid-based drugs with fatal overdoses, which has risen to epidemic proportions in the US with around 60,000 deaths recorded every year.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a derivative of morphine that is made from the resin of the poppy plant and was first extracted alongside opium for use as a painkiller in 1810. When bought on the street, heroin is usually mixed with another substance known as an adulterant to increase its volume, dilute the amount of pure heroin and increase profit margins.

These adulterants or additives can often include toxic chemicals such as strychnine or other powders like quinine, procaine, dextrose, starch, and mannitol, which each pose a health risk in addition to that of the heroin content in each packet purchased illicitly. The way in which heroin is taken also increases the risk of adverse side effects because it is typically injected into the bloodstream used intranasally (snorted) or smoked.

How Does Heroin Work And Why Is It Addictive?

Heroin works by affecting the opioid receptors in the brain, disrupting production of endorphin to the rest of the body, which creates an intense feeling of euphoria. Originally used as a painkiller, heroin suppresses the receptors sending pain signals to the body via the central nervous system to act as an analgesic. When taken recreationally, users tend to feel so relaxed that they seem to almost lose consciousness but the way the drug affects the brain can lead very quickly to dependency and ultimately addiction.

Heroin is also physically addictive and once it is in the system, it depresses dopamine sensory pathways in the brain which induces a rush of euphoria. When the drug is injected, the user can feel its heat coursing through their body, with their extremities becoming heavy and relaxed as their physical and mental functions slow down. There is always the potential for adverse effects when taking illicit drugs like heroin, which can sometimes cause dryness of the mouth, nausea, and vomiting which all serve to increase the drug’s associated health risks.

The Risks of Abusing Heroin

Many people who are addicted to heroin combine the drug with other substances or alcohol also and all regular users tend to take it in greater amounts over time in order to get the high they seek. When the body becomes used to being stimulated in the same way, it develops a natural tolerance and with heroin, this process is more rapid than other drugs because it is so highly addictive.

Some of the effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Impaired cognitive abilities and loss of coordination
  • Slowed breathing and slurred speech
  • Dry mouth and itchy skin
  • Contracted pupils
  • Limp muscles and inability to move

Signs of Heroin Overdose

Because of the nature of heroin as an illicit drug that has no medical purpose, it is possible to overdose even if someone is not addicted. Heroin is routinely mixed with other components, which increases the risks for anyone using the drug of taking a fatal dose, even if they have never used before. If someone is showing the signs and symptoms of heroin overdose it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek emergency assistance because time is of the essence.

The signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose include the following:

  • Irregular breathing and difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of consciousness with slowed, irregular or absent pulse
  • Unable to talk even if seemingly conscious
  • Choking or gurgling sounds and a bluish-gray tint to the skin
  • Clammy skin and blue or black lips and/or fingernails

Treatment and Recovery from Heroin Addiction

Despite heroin being one of the deadliest drugs known to exist, many people successfully recover from addiction to it. Specialist treatment for heroin addiction where medical professionals have specific expertise in helping addicts is the most effective route to take towards reclaiming their lives and also their health. Because heroin is such an addictive drug, it is always recommended to undergo supervised detox in a heroin addiction treatment center, where there is qualified staff on-hand to deal with any uncomfortable or distressing withdrawal symptoms as and when they arise. The important thing to bear in mind is that it is eminently possible to successfully complete heroin addiction treatment and that there is a brighter future ahead for those seeking a life of sobriety.