10 Things to Know about Heroin

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Think you know what’s going on in your neighborhood? The families of addicts can often attest to the fact that they didn’t see the initial signs of their loved one’s growing addiction. Sometimes, the family suspects that there is something going on, but they are in denial. Other times, however, they attribute the signs and symptoms of addiction to other things, such as stress at work, illness or normal teenage behavior. Being open, honest and aware about the nation’s growing drug problem is important. This way, if someone close to you starts using, you’ll know what signs to look for and be able to offer help sooner.

As you may already know, heroin is a drug that is popping up in more communities across the nation. In 2007, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that the US has 153,000 heroin users. Other reports say the numbers are as high as 900,000. To say that your neighborhood or circle of friends and family will never be touched by heroin is a dangerous assumption to make. It’s far better to be informed and aware than to shut the door on a growing problem.

Here are ten things to know about the opiate, heroin.

1. Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and it only takes one time to get hooked. Some users think that they’ll try it once or twice and then stop, but this is rarely the case. Once you go down this path, it’s hard to turn back. Bottom line: A single dose of heroin can start a person on the road to addiction.

2. Tolerance develops rather quickly when using heroin. Not only is it easy to get addicted, but it’s not long before you need more and more of the drug. This increasing tolerance is also what helps mold the path to addiction rather quickly.

3. There is no cookie-cutter profile of a heroin user. Interestingly, the newest users are those in their teens or early 20s who come from affluent suburbs and moderate-income families. College students and those with steady jobs and good grades are not exempt from the downward spiral of heroin.

4. It used to be that heroin was considered a “dirty drug.” It left track marks on the arms and required the use of needles that were often shared. That’s why people tend to think that only the poor or very highly addicted use heroin. Not true. With so many users smoking or sniffing the drug, it has a cleaner image.

5. If users do choose to inject the drug, which most do once they are addicted, there are additional risk factors to worry about. Not only do users suffer from addiction and run the risk of overdose, but also they set themselves up for a high risk of liver disease, infection, HIV/AIDS and collapsed veins.

6. Heroin is not a drug that can be used occasionally. It grabs a hold of you. Physical withdrawal can start in a few hours after using the drug and include symptoms like insomnia, restlessness, cold flashes, diarrhea and muscle pain. Heroin addicts therefore use frequently. Additionally, abrupt withdrawal can result in death, while a gradual withdrawal can carry symptoms for a few months. On average, major withdrawal symptoms peak at 48 to 72 hours after the last dose and can last up to a full week.

7. Addiction is a brain disease, so it never really goes away. That means that a heroin addict will have to work diligently their entire life to stay sober. Heroin cravings can pop up years after using, especially when exposed to old friends, stress and past places associated with the drug.

8. In its purest form, heroin is a white powder. It’s rarely found in white, though, because it is mixed with other things. Generally, you’ll find heroin in a gray, brown or black color. Heroin is cut with other drugs and chemicals to make it go further, but these other chemicals can be toxic. This means that the true potency of the heroin is never really known.

9. Although heroin can be smoked or sniffed, it is most commonly injected because of the rush it provides. Injection carries the most risk of lethal overdose because the user is injecting a lot of heroin into their bloodstream at once. Also, the contaminants in the heroin are injected, so there is no way to stop them from running their course.

10. We can never be too cautious or careful. “Cheese heroin” is a mix of black tar heroin and  Tylenol PM. It has been responsible for over 40 deaths in the North Texas area alone, according DrugFreeWorld.org. We just never know what teens and young adults are willing to try as a result of peer pressure or stress, so it’s important to be on alert so that you can intervene if/when necessary.