Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug. It is used by millions of addicts around the world who are unable to overcome the urge to continue taking this drug every day of their lives—knowing that if they stop, they will face the horror of withdrawal.
Heroin (like opium and morphine) is made from the resin of poppy plants. Milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. This opium is refined to make morphine, then further refined into different forms of heroin.
Most heroin is injected, creating additional risks for the user, who faces the danger of AIDS or other infection on top of the pain of addiction.
Heroin was first manufactured in 1898 by the Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany and marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis as well as a remedy for morphine addiction.
Opiates, originally derived from the opium poppy, have been used for thousands of years for both recreational and medicinal purposes. The most active substance in opium is morphine—named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Morphine is a very powerful painkiller, but it is also very addictive.
In the sixteenth century, laudanum, opium prepared in an alcoholic solution, was used as a painkiller.
Morphine was first extracted from opium in a pure form in the early nineteenth century. It was used widely as a painkiller during the American Civil War, and many soldiers became addicted.
Codeine, a less powerful drug that is found in opium but can be synthesized (man-made), was first isolated in 1830 in France by Jean-Pierre Robiquet, to replace raw opium for medical purposes. It is used mainly as a cough remedy.
Morphine, the most active substance in opium, is a very powerful painkiller that hooked many US Civil War soldiers.
Throughout the early nineteenth century, the recreational use of opium grew and by 1830, the British dependence on the drug reached an all-time high. The British sent warships to the coast of China in 1839 in response to China’s attempt to suppress the opium traffic, beginning the “First Opium War.”
In 1874, chemists trying to find a less addictive form of morphine made heroin. But heroin had twice the potency of morphine, and heroin addiction soon became a serious problem.
The US Congress banned opium in 1905 and the next year passed the Pure Food and Drug Act requiring contents labeling on all medicines.
Methadone was first synthesized in 1937 by German scientists Max Bockmühl and Gustav Ehrhart at the IG Farben company. They were searching for a painkiller that would be easier to use during surgery, with less addiction potential than morphine or heroin.
Yet methadone is believed by many to be even more addictive than heroin.
Meanwhile, the illegal opium trade boomed. By 1995, Southeast Asia was producing 2,500 tons annually.
New painkillers came on the market with approval from the Food and Drug Administration: Vicodin in 1984, OxyContin in 1995 and Percocet in 1999.
These are all synthetic (man-made) opiates which mimic (imitate) the body’s own painkillers.
A VICIOUS CIRCLE
During the 1850s, opium addiction was a major problem in the United States. The “solution” was to provide opium addicts with a less potent and supposedly “non-addictive” substitute—morphine. Morphine addiction soon became a bigger problem than opium addiction.
As with opium, the morphine problem was solved by another “non-addictive” substitute—heroin, which proved to be even more addictive than morphine. With the heroin problem came yet another “non-addictive” substitute—the drug now known as methadone. First developed in 1937 by German scientists searching for a surgical painkiller, it was exported to the US and given the trade name “Dolophine” in 1947. Renamed methadone, the drug was soon being widely used as a treatment for heroin addiction. Unfortunately, it proved to be even more addictive than heroin.
By the late 1990s, the mortality rate of heroin addicts was estimated to be as high as twenty times greater than the rest of the population.
PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLER ABUSE
While the use of many street drugs is on a slight decline in the US, abuse of prescription drugs is growing. In 2007, 2.5 million Americans abused prescription drugs for the first time, compared to 2.1 million who used marijuana for the first time.
Among teens, prescription drugs are the most commonly used drugs next to marijuana, and almost half of the teens abusing prescription drugs are taking painkillers.
Why are so many young people turning to prescription drugs to get high?
By survey, almost 50% of teens believe that taking prescription drugs is much safer than using illegal street drugs.
What is not known by most of these young people is the risk they are taking by consuming these highly potent and mind-altering drugs. Long-term use of painkillers can lead to dependence, even for people who are prescribed them to relieve a medical condition but eventually fall into the trap of abuse and addiction.
In some cases, the dangers of painkillers don’t surface until it is too late. In 2007, for example, abuse of the painkiller Fentanyl killed more than 1,000 people. The drug was found to be thirty to fifty times more powerful than heroin.
WHAT ARE PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS?
Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that interfere with the nervous system’s transmission of the nerve signals we perceive as pain. Most painkillers also stimulate portions of the brain associated with pleasure. Thus, in addition to blocking pain, they produce a “high.”
The most powerful prescription painkillers are called opioids, which are opium-like compounds. They are manufactured to react on the nervous system in the same way as drugs derived from the opium poppy, like heroin. The most commonly abused opioid painkillers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, hydromorphone and propoxyphene.
Oxycodone has the greatest potential for abuse and the greatest dangers. It is as powerful as heroin and affects the nervous system the same way. Oxycodone is sold under many trade names, such as Percodan, Endodan, Roxiprin, Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet and OxyContin. It comes in tablet form.
Hydrocodone is used in combination with other chemicals and is available in prescription pain medications as tablets, capsules and syrups. Trade names include Anexsia, Dicodid, Hycodan, Hycomine, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Tussionex and Vicodin. Sales and production of this drug have increased significantly in recent years, as has its illicit use.
Meperidine (brand name Demerol) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) come in tablets and propoxyphene (Darvon) in capsules, but all three have been known to be crushed and injected, snorted or smoked. Darvon, banned in the UK since 2005, is among the top ten drugs reported in drug abuse deaths in the US. Dilaudid, considered eight times more potent than morphine, is often called “drug store heroin” on the streets.
WHY ARE PAINKILLERS SO ADDICTIVE?
Opioid painkillers produce a short-lived euphoria, but they are also addictive.
Long-term use of painkillers can lead to physical dependence. The body adapts to the presence of the substance and if one stops taking the drug abruptly, withdrawal symptoms occur. Or the body could build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning that higher doses have to be taken to achieve the same effects.
Like all drugs, painkillers simply mask the pain for which they are taken. They don’t “cure” anything. Someone continuously trying to dull the pain may find himself taking higher and higher doses—only to discover that he cannot make it through the day without the drug.
Symptoms of withdrawal can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (known as “cold turkey”), and involuntary leg movements.
One of the serious risks of opioids is respiratory depression—high doses can cause breathing to slow down to the point it stops and the user dies.
WHAT DOES HEROIN LOOK LIKE?
In its purest form, heroin is a fine white powder. But more often, it is found to be rose gray, brown or black in color. The coloring comes from additives, which have been used to dilute it, which can include sugar, caffeine or other substances. Street heroin is sometimes “cut” with strychnine or other poisons. The various additives do not fully dissolve, and when they are injected into the body, can clog the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, kidneys or brain. This itself can lead to infection or destruction of vital organs.
The user buying heroin on the street never knows the actual strength of the drug in that particular packet. Thus, users are constantly at risk of an overdose.
Heroin can be injected, smoked or sniffed. The first time it is used, the drug creates a sensation of being high. A person can feel extroverted, able to communicate easily with others and may experience a sensation of heightened sexual performance—but not for long.
Heroin is highly addictive and withdrawal extremely painful. The drug quickly breaks down the immune system, finally leaving one sickly, extremely thin and bony and, ultimately, dead.
- An estimated 13.5 million people in the world take opioids (opium-like substances), including 9.2 million who use heroin.
- In 2007, 93% of the world’s opium supply came from Afghanistan. (Opium is the raw material for heroin supply.) Its total export value was about $4 billion, of which almost three quarters went to traffickers. About a quarter went to Afghan opium farmers.
- The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 153,000 current heroin users in the US in 2007. Other estimates give figures as high as 900,000.
- Opiates, mainly heroin, were involved in four of every five drug-related deaths in Europe, according to a 2008 report from the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
- Opiates, mainly heroin, account for 18% of the admissions for drug and alcohol treatment in the US.
THE DESTRUCTIVE EFFECTS OF HEROIN
IMMEDIATE HARM: The initial effects of heroin include a surge of sensation—a “rush.” This is often accompanied by a warm feeling of the skin and a dry mouth. Sometimes, the initial reaction can include vomiting or severe itching.
After these initial effects fade, the user becomes drowsy for several hours. The basic body functions such as breathing and heartbeat slow down.
Within hours after the drug effects have decreased, the addict’s body begins to crave more. If he does not get another fix, he will begin to experience withdrawal. Withdrawal includes the extreme physical and mental symptoms which are experienced if the body is not supplied again with the next dose of heroin. Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, aches and pains in the bones, diarrhea, vomiting and severe discomfort.
The intense high a user seeks lasts only a few minutes. With continued use, he needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel “normal.”
Short-term effects include:
- Slowed breathing
- Clouded mental functioning
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sedation; drowsiness
- Hypothermia (body temperature lower than normal)
- Coma or death (due to overdose)
LONG –TERM EFFECTS
The effects on the body from continued use of this drug are very destructive. Frequent injections can cause collapsed veins and can lead to infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Tuberculosis can result from the general poor condition of the body. Arthritis is another long-term result of heroin addiction.
The addict lifestyle—where heroin users often share their needles—leads to AIDS and other contagious infections. It is estimated that of the 35,000 new hepatitis C2 (liver disease) infections each year in the United States, over 70% are from drug users who use needles.
Long-term effects include:
- Bad teeth
- Inflammation of the gums
- Cold sweats
- Weakening of the immune system
- Respiratory (breathing) illnesses
- Muscular weakness, partial paralysis
- Reduced sexual capacity and long-term impotence in men
- Menstrual disturbance in women
- Inability to achieve orgasm (women and men)
- Loss of memory and intellectual performance
- Pustules on the face
- Loss of appetite
I’LL JUST TRY IT ONCE.
Warning: Even a single dose of heroin can start a person on the road to addiction.
Many people experiment with heroin thinking, “I’ll try it once or twice. I can always stop.” But those who start down that road find it nearly impossible to turn back.
THE HEROIN “LOOK”
Once heroin frightened people. More recently, some people have tried to make heroin use “fashionable.”
In the past decade, the “heroin addict look”—blank expression, waxy complexion, dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks, excessive thinness, greasy hair—was promoted in popular magazines and fashion circles as “chic.”
Just as rock stars helped popularize LSD during the 1960s, so have some fashion designers, photographers and advertising people of today influenced an entire generation of youth, by portraying heroin use in magazines and music videos as fashionable and even desirable.
A VERY SLIPPERY SLOPE
Some children smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol when still very young. By the time they graduate from high school, nearly 40% of all teens will have tried marijuana. Some later move on to more addictive substances.
We cannot assume that all children who smoke marijuana today will become heroin addicts tomorrow. But the danger does exist. And long-term studies of high school students show that few young people use other drugs without first having tried marijuana. Once a person can no longer get the initial “rush” he seeks, he begins to increase drug consumption or to look for something stronger.
LET’S FACE REALITY
Children increasingly are coming into contact with illegal drugs.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 9.5% of youths aged 12 to 17 in the US were current illegal drug users. In 2008, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that daily marijuana use among college students had doubled, and use of cocaine and heroin was on the rise as well.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2008 an estimated 16 million people worldwide used opiates—opium, morphine, heroin and synthetic opiates.
THE NEW FACE OF HEROIN
The image of a listless young heroin addict collapsed in a filthy, dark alley is obsolete. Today, the young addict could be 12 years old, play video games and enjoy the music of his generation. He could appear smart, stylish and bear none of the common traces of heroin use, such as needle marks on his arm.
Because it is available in various forms that are easier to consume and more affordable, heroin today is more tempting than ever. Between 1995 and 2002, the number of teenagers in America, aged 12 to 17, who used heroin at some point in their lives increased by 300%.
A young person who might think twice about putting a needle in his arm may more readily smoke or sniff the same drug. But this is falsely reassuring and may give one the idea that there is less risk. The truth is that heroin in all its forms is dangerous and addictive.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DRUGS.
Drugs are essentially poisons. The amount taken determines the effect.
A small amount acts as a stimulant (speeds you up). A greater amount acts as a sedative (slows you down). An even larger amount poisons and can kill.
This is true of any drug. Only the amount needed to achieve the effect differs.
But many drugs have another liability: they directly affect the mind. They can distort the user’s perception of what is happening around him or her. As a result, the person’s actions may be odd, irrational, inappropriate and even destructive.
Drugs block off all sensations, the desirable ones with the unwanted. So, while providing short-term help in the relief of pain, they also wipe out ability and alertness and muddy one’s thinking.
Medicines are drugs that are intended to speed up or slow down or change something about the way your body is working, to try to make it work better. Sometimes they are necessary. But they are still drugs: they act as stimulants or sedatives, and too much can kill you. So if you do not use medicines as they are supposed to be used, they can be as dangerous as illegal drugs.
WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE DRUGS?
People take drugs because they want to change something in their lives.
Here are some of the reasons young people have given for taking drugs:
- To fit in
- To escape or relax
- To relieve boredom
- To seem grown up
- To rebel
- To experiment
They think drugs are a solution. But eventually, the drugs become the problem.
Difficult as it may be to face one’s problems, the consequences of drug use are always worse than the problem one is trying to solve with them. The real answer is to get the facts and not to take drugs in the first place.
This information provided by Drug Free World. For more information visit www.drugfreeworld.org