Published February 14, 2014
The recent overdose deaths of celebrities Cory Monteith and
Philip Seymour Hoffman have drawn increased attention to the rising
problem of heroin addiction in the United States. Statistics from
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA) indicate that heroin use has increased dramatically in the
last five years.
Drug officials believe the increase may be linked to the rise in prescription drug abuse, as people who abuse drugs such as Oxycontin or Vicodin look for a greater, cheaper high. Heroin is both less expensive and potentially more powerful than prescription drugs. It is also far more dangerous.
Heroin’s dangers include its unpredictable potency and the
fact that street dealers often lace it with other drugs. In the
early weeks of 2014, both Pennsylvania and Rhode Island authorities
reported dozens of overdose deaths—far above
average—that they believe were due to “tainted”
heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful, synthetic painkiller
estimated to be hundreds of times more potent than heroin.
Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug derived from morphine obtained from the seed pod of various poppy plants. It is a “downer,” or depressant, that interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain. It can look like a white or dark brown powder or like tar. Common street names include horse, smack, junk and brown sugar.
Heroin overdose occurs when too much is consumed. The body’s respiratory and cardiac functions slow down, and breathing decreases to a level unable to support life.
The drug naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, can counteract the effects of overdose if administered in time. Administered via nasal spray or injection, it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and offsets heroin’s effect on the respiratory system.
In late 2013, the New York State Commissioner of Health approved
the use of naloxone by emergency medical service personnel in the
state. More and more U.S. states are providing training and access
to Narcan in response to the rising number of overdose
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Treatment for heroin addiction tends to be more effective when the heroin use is identified early, before the physical addiction has been able to take hold.
Detoxification is the process by which the body is cleaned of the substance. The goal of detox is to help the individual withdraw from opiates safely and without complications.
After detoxification, individuals pursue either a behavioral
(i.e., focusing on behaviors or thoughts) or pharmacological (i.e.,
using medication) treatment, but usually an integration of the two
to be the most effective.
Suboxone (Buprenorphine + Naloxone)
Millions of people have found mutual aid (self-help) support groups to be extremely helpful in achieving and maintaining long-term recovery.