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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