Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug that has been increasingly abused over the last decade. Synthesized from morphine, heroin is an opioid drug extracted from the seed of the Asian opium poppy plant. The drug comes in various forms including a white or brown powder; a black and sticky substance; which can be injected, smoked or snorted.
Many Americans addicted to opiates turn to heroin, which is a cheaper alternative to painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 0.2 percent of adults aged 26 or older were current heroin users, which represented 383,000 adults aged 26 or older who were current users of heroin.
Heroin can be abused in a number of ways such as by injecting, sniffing, snorting or smoking. The drug can also be mixed with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing.
When injected, heroin bypasses the liver, crossing the blood-brain barrier and in turn, producing strong sensations of euphoria, sedation as well as soothing pain. But, it also causes a number of harmful effects, such as:
- A loss of motivation in school and work
- Apathy towards interpersonal relationships and hobbies
- Lack of attention to hygiene/appearance
- Constricted pupils
- Constipation and gastrointestinal cramping
- Collapsed veins and depressed heart rate/breathing that can lead to death
- Epidermal and vascular infections
- Liver, kidney or lung disease
Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence followed by severe withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms can begin as early as a few hours after the last drug administration.
Some of the common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Restlessness and agitation
- Muscle and bone pain
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Cold flashes with goose bumps, leading to the phrase “cold turkey”
- Muscle twisting, leading to the phrase “kicking the habit”
- Severe craving for the drug during withdrawal, which can precipitate continued abuse and/or relapse