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Heroin Addiction

Heroin users don't experience the same maniacal rage as ice addicts, and the drug does not normally do the same amount of short-term damage to the body as any number of party drugs. Even so, heroin is still the no.1 killer of drug users in the Western world, and if we are going to combat it we will need to understand why.

Heroin is an addictive drug that is processed from morphine and usually appears as a white or brown powder. Its street names include smack, H, ska, junk, and many others. Heroin use is still on the rise and it has become a serious problem in America and throughout the Western world.

Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and, particularly in users who inject the drug, infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. The short-term effects of heroin abuse appear soon after a single dose and disappear in a few hours. After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria ("rush") accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities.

Following this initial euphoria, the user goes "on the nod" - an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system.

Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use for some period of time. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulitis, and liver disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration. Heroin abuse during pregnancy and its many associated environmental factors (e.g., lack of prenatal care) have been associated with adverse consequences for children including low birth weight, an important risk factor for later developmental delay.

In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs.

With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more to achieve the same intensity of effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey"), kicking movements ("kicking the habit"), and other symptoms.

Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal.

In many Western countries Methadone is administered to heroin addicts as an alternative to sudden withdrawal. In theory, the methadone is used as an interim measure to help the user get over his or her reliance on heroin The main problem with this though is that methadone is even more addictive than the drug it is supposed to be replacing!

This is the irony. Heroin was originally developed to help persons who had become addicted to morphine, but it turned out to be more addictive than morphine. Methadone is likewise more addictive than heroin, and it is the addictive quality of the drug that accounts for the terrible number of fatalities. In the short term, it is a less dangerous drug than many of its alternatives, but the longer the drug is used and the more deeply the user becomes addicted, the lower the user's chances of survival become.

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