A commonly abused opioid drug which is processed from morphine is heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that around 23 percent of those who used heroin developed a dependency to the substance. When available as powder, it is colored white or brown. It may also appear as a sticky substance which is black in color, hence the name “black tar heroin.”
Highly-addictive, heroin can be sniffed, inhaled, smoked or injected. The drug alters the brain in such a manner that addicts look for the drug regardless of the consequences. Dependence also develops. When heroin is injected, addicts experience the “rush” which is the term used to describe the euphoric feeling that the drug causes. Together with the rush, the mouth also dries up, the skin flushes and the extremities feel heavy. Mental functioning is also impaired and the user becomes alternately wakeful and drowsy. While those who don’t inject the drug don’t experience the high initially felt by those who do, the effects are pretty much similar.
Continued use of heroin can cause collapsed veins, abscesses, gastrointestinal cramping, constipation, infections affecting the valves and the lining of the heart, kidney disease and liver disease. Pneumonia and other lung complications can also result. Because of the additives or toxic impurities that are commonly added to street heroin, abuse of the drug can even lead to permanent damage of the body’s vital organs. Overdose can be fatal.
Pregnant women who are abusing heroin may be prone to spontaneous abortion. If the baby is delivered, it may have low birth weight which can lead to more developmental delays. In some cases, the baby may even be physically dependent on heroin upon birth and would have to be hospitalized.
Those who abuse heroin also put themselves at risk for HIV and Hepatitis C. These diseases are blood-borne and can be transmitted from one user to the next by using the same injections and needles. Since heroin can impair judgment, it also increases the risk of HIV being transmitted since users often engage in risky sexual behavior like having protected sex.
A person who is physically dependent on heroin and abruptly stops using it can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. When the body goes without heroin, symptoms like restlessness, insomnia, pain in the muscles and bones, vomiting, diarrhea, cold flashes accompanied by goose bumps, kicking movements and a severe craving for the drug.
A heroin addict must be brought in to a drug rehabilitation facility right away if they are to go back to living drug-free lives. There are now various therapies and medications that have been proven effective for the treatment of heroin addiction. Rehab facilities that use prescription medication to treat the dependency may use buprenorphine and methadone so the addict can wean himself from heroin and minimize cravings. They may also use naltrexone and naloxone to combat the effects of overdose.