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Heroin?

Published: August 8, 2001
Dear TeenHealthFX,
Can you tell me everything you know about heroin?
Signed: Heroin?

Dear Heroin?,

 

How about if TeenHealthFX gives you an overview on heroin and refers you to a website that really knows a lot about drugs, www.nida.nih.gov (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

 

Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy plant. Heroin was originally produced in the late 1800's as a pain reliever. The medical profession soon discovered how addictive the drug was and how it significantly altered a person's perceptions. Today the manufacturing and importation of heroin are prohibited in the United States and is not used medically.

Heroin usually is sold as a white to dark brown powder or tar like substance. While in recent years heroin has been sold more in its pure form, it still is "cut" (mixed with other substances) such as starch, powdered milk, quinine and common household poisons like strychnine. Since users do not know the strength or contents of the drug they are at risk of overdose or death each time they use.

 

Heroin can be used in a variety of ways. It can be dissolved in water and shot into a vein or muscle. It can be smoked with a water pipe, a regular pipe or mixed with tobacco. It also can be inhaled as smoke through a straw or sniffed as a powder through the nose. The increased purity has allowed heroin to be used in these other ways, and made it more popular with teenagers since there is no longer the stigma of a needle. Unfortunately that purity had led to an increase in overdoses among teens. We are not talking about hard-core addicts but ordinary kids and after using it just once.

 

The short-term effects of heroin appear soon after the drug is used and disappear a few hours later. The user feels a surge of euphoria, accompanied by a warm sensation, heavy limbs and a dry mouth. Following the initial euphoria the user goes into a "nod" which is an alternating state of alertness and being drowsy. Mental functioning becomes cloudy due to the depression of the nervous system. Other effects include slow or slurred speech, slower movement, droopy eyelids, constricted pupils, impaired night vision, vomiting and constipation.

 

Long-term effects are numerous and devastating. With regular use tolerance develops and the user needs more of the drug to get the same intensity or effect. Physical dependence sets in and withdrawal occurs when the user cannot get the drug. Withdrawal includes, drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, vomiting, muscle jerks, and goose bumps or cold flashes. Withdrawal peaks between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose of heroin and can last about a week. Heroin withdrawal would not kill a normal healthy adult, but an addict who is in poor health could be at risk of death.

 

Medical complications include collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, skin infections, cellulitis and liver disease. Because of heroin's depressing effects on the respiratory system, chronic users are at a much higher risk for pneumonia. Some of the additives used to "cut" the drug may not readily dissolve in the blood stream and can cause clogging in the lungs, liver, kidneys and brain. Addicts who share needles run the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C and a multitude of other blood-borne viruses.

 

If all this sounds frightening, it is because it is. These are the facts about heroin and what it does to your body.

 

If you are a heroin addict and want to quit, you are going to need help. Check with your local hospital to see if they have unit that will medically monitor you as you detoxify. Once you are done with this phase of recovery the hospital will then refer you to a drug treatment program to help you stay clean.

If you or any of your friends are thinking about using heroin, please think again. It is just not worth it to risk your life on something so bad for you.

Signed: TeenHealthFX

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