Category Archives: Heroin

From Painkillers to Heroin: Why this Path is Common

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Every day in the United States, over 115 people die from opioid overdose. In fact, opioids were blamed for the sharp increase in accidental deaths in 2016. We are facing an opioid crisis, and many people can’t help but wonder what led us here. The path, surprisingly, is an easy one.

How Opioid Addictions Form

Research shows that the misuse of prescription pain medication can be a gateway to harder drugs. In one study, 85 percent of teens said they abused opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin before trying heroin. On average, teens abused prescription painkillers for two years before progressing to harder substances. The opioids generally came from the medicine cabinets of friends and family.

It’s also possible for people to become dependent on opioids they were prescribed. Some individuals need painkillers following a surgery or injury. However, taking opioids for an extended period of time raises the risk for addiction.

It’s easy to understand how a person might grow dependent on habit-forming opioids. But, how does a person go from using pain pills prescribed by a doctor to heroin?

Why People Progress to Heroin

Once a person uses opioids for an extended period of time, they can grow tolerant. This means that they need more of the drug to feel the same effects. Prescription painkillers are expensive and difficult to obtain, especially in excess. A cheaper and more powerful alternative is heroin.

Because prescription pain pills and heroin are both opioids, they produce similar effects. This is part of the reason why they are linked. According to The Conversation, an 80 mg pill of OxyContin can cost between $60 and $100 on the street. Heroin costs around $40 to $60 for multiple doses.

No one uses prescription opioids to become addicted. Unfortunately, opioids are highly addictive when misused. Once a person is dependent, they will do things they normally wouldn’t do to support their habit.

What is Being Done

Things are being done to combat the overdose crisis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is focusing on these priorities:

  • Improving access to treatment and recovery services

  • Encouraging the use of overdose-reversing drugs

  • Educating communities on the opioid epidemic

  • Providing more support for research on pain and addiction

  • Advancing pain management practices

  • Developing new medications and technologies to treat chronic pain

To fight the opioid crisis, we need both education and compassion. The River Source delivers inpatient and outpatient treatment for individuals with opioid addictions. Call us today and discover our effective, reasonably priced treatment programs.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

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As uncomfortable as the withdrawal process can be from opiates, it’s rarely life threatening. In the right environment and with access to medical care, heroin detox is actually a rather safe process. The real risk to heroin is overdose.

Heroin is one of the most addictive, lethal drugs in the world. It comes in all different forms – white powder, black tar – and can be used in a variety of ways – snorting, smoking, shooting up. It doesn’t matter what type is used or how it’s used. Heroin is addictive, dangerous and potentially deadly.

Overdosing on heroin requires immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the signs of a potential overdose, and therefore, may delay in getting a person the help they need.

In this article, we will discuss the risk for heroin overdose, what makes the drug deadly and the symptoms of a potentially fatal overdose.

What is the Risk for Heroin Overdose?

Anytime a person uses heroin, they run the risk of overdosing. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been using the drug or how high their tolerance level is. It doesn’t matter who they bought the heroin from, what it’s cut with or their “experience” level. So let’s get that out of the way: Every time heroin is used, death is a real possibility.

Heroin is a powerful opiate analgesic that numbs pain, suppresses breathing and slows the heart rate. In some cases, it can slow the body down so much that the heart stops beating or the lungs stop inflating and deflating. Though many people think that a cocktail of drugs need to be taken for these effects to occur, this isn’t the case at all. Heroin does this on its own.

How Many People Overdose on Heroin Each Year?

The U.S. government does not track and collect data for every drug, but it does for the more commonly used substances. Heroin is one of them. Based on this data, the rate of overdose deaths from opioids has seen a 2.8-fold increase from 2002 to 2015. In regards to heroin, there has been a 6.2-fold increase in the total number of deaths from the same years. By the numbers, this means that 13,000 people died from heroin in 2015.

Let’s look at a few more sobering statistics regarding heroin abuse and overdose deaths, according to the CDC.

  • Heroin-related deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010.

  • From 2014 to 2015, heroin overdose deaths increased by 20.6 percent.

  • The average heroin user spends $150-$200 a day to support their habit.

  • Men are more likely to develop a heroin addiction, but women are quickly catching up.

  • More than nine in 10 people who use heroin also use other drugs.

  • Among new heroin users, about three out of four say that they abused prescription drugs before heroin.

  • Heroin use has increased among MOST demographic groups. Whether it be females, those with health insurance or those with steady income, heroin use is rising.

How Does Heroin Kill?

The thing about heroin is that it has many ways to be fatal – not just one. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why heroin can be deadly.

  • Slowed Organ Functioning

When heroin is smoked, snorted or injected, it reaches the bloodstream very quickly. It binds to opioid receptors, providing immediate pain relief and a feeling of euphoria.

As the heroin reaches the central nervous system, it slows down the body’s processes for several hours. Users often feel drowsy, nodding on and off. Breathing can slow to a point of stopping and can lead to coma or death. The heart and blood circulation can also slow. Combining heroin with other depressants can amplify these effects.

  • Longer Term Organ Damage

If a user doesn’t die from an acute overdose, they run the risk of long-term consequences that can be fatal. These include:

  • Chronic viral liver disease

  • Liver cancer

  • Kidney disease

  • Lung complications

  • Depression

  • Collapsed veins

  • Infection in the lining of the heart

  • Infectious Diseases

Needle-sharing is also an issue of concern for heroin addicts. Using dirty needles puts users at a greater risk for infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Viral hepatitis is spread through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Hepatitis B and C affect the liver and can be deadly if not treated.

HIV/AIDS is transmitted in a similar way as hepatitis. HIV damages the immune system and makes it difficult for the body to protect itself from disease. Not only can the drug use further complicate the symptoms of HIV, but also the condition can progress into full-blown AIDS.

  • Tolerance and Relapse

The regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance, which is the need to use more of the drug to achieve the same high. The body becomes dependent on heroin, which means the user may take the drug more often and in larger quantities. This, in itself, can lead to symptoms of heroin overdose.

Newly recovering addicts are a highly vulnerable group of people. If a person stops using heroin and then relapses, they may take the same amount of the opiate as they were used to taking. The body cannot handle the same dose, resulting in an unintentional overdose.

  • Cut with Another Drug

Like other drugs, heroin can be cut with other substances. Dealers do this to sell more of the drug at a lesser expense to themselves. However, dealers don’t care what they mix the heroin with. To them, it’s a business and they care about making money.

Some of the most common cutting agents include baking soda, sugar, powdered milk, starch and talcum powder. But it’s also been found that some batches of heroin are cut with laundry detergent, rat poison or other over-the-counter painkillers.

According to the John Hopkins University, heroin can be anywhere between 3 and 99 percent pure. You just never know what you’re getting. Heroin laced with fentanyl has also been emerging, further exacerbating the overdose problem.

Common Signs of Heroin Overdose

If you know someone abusing heroin, it’s important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of a potential overdose. Getting the person medical attention can save their lives. Many people assume that they would know what an overdose looks like, but the reality is that it’s not always easy to tell. A person may excuse themselves to lie down or catch a nap, only to never wake again. If you ever having a hard time determining what’s going on, treat the symptoms as an overdose.

Here are some signs of heroines overdose.

  • Pupils look small and constricted

  • Muscles are droopy and relaxed

  • Slurred speech

  • Person may nod off uncontrollably

  • Person may have scratchy skin

  • Person may be out of it but respond to outside stimuli

If the person is getting too high, they can suffer from an overdose. Get the person up, walk them around and get them fresh air. If they don’t improve, call 911 immediately. Here are some signs to help you recognize opiate overdose.

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Awake, but can’t talk

  • Not responding to outside stimuli

  • Slow or shallow breathing

  • Choking or gurgling sounds

  • Limp body

  • Vomiting

  • Pale or clammy skin

  • Slow or erratic heartbeat

  • Blue or purple fingernails

If you notice that the person is sleeping and making strange noises, wake them up. Some family members have thought that their loved one was snoring, when in reality, they were overdosing. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so wake the person up and assess the situation.

Typically, a person doesn’t die immediately from a heroin overdose. It takes time for the body’s processes to slow and stop – anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours – which means you have time to intervene and save a life.

What to Do if You Suspect an Overdose

When responding to an overdose, act right away. Never take the “wait and see” approach when dealing with a potential overdose. Here are the steps to follow if you notice symptoms of a heroin overdose.

  • Assess the Signs. Is the person breathing? Responsive? Can they speak?

  • Stimulation. Try to wake the person up if they are in a heavy sleep. If it doesn’t work, stimulate them with pain by rubbing your knuckles into their sternum. Call 911 if they don’t respond, or if they respond but say they have tightness or trouble breathing.

  • Call for Help. It’s always ideal to call for help because a medical professional can assess the situation appropriately. Naloxone may be used to stop the overdose, but other health effects that need to be addressed may be going on as well.

  • Recovery Position. While you wait for help, place the person in the Recovery Position. This position has the person lying slightly on their side with one knee bent and their face turned to the side. This keeps the airway clear and prevents choking if the person begins throwing up.

When making the 911 call, avoid using words like “overdose” or “drugs.” Instead, tell the dispatcher that the person is not breathing, unresponsive, turning blue, etc. Stick to the facts and what you see. This makes the call a priority. When the paramedics arrive, you can then share the knowledge that you have, such as that the person might be overdosing.

Taking the Next Step: Getting Treatment for a Heroin Problem

A person can overdose again if they continue to use heroin. Therefore, the person should think about starting a recovering program to save their life. Otherwise, they can end up in the same position again, and this time, they might not be as lucky. Heroin is deadly, and if it doesn’t lead to acute effects, it can shut down organs and lead to infectious diseases in the longer term.

Today’s recovery programs are more effective than ever. Rather than simply treating the heroin abuse, they take into account the various reasons for the addiction. Is the person struggling with depression or PTSD? Were they abused as a child and now using drugs to escape?

Treatment also teaches recovering addicts how to exist in society without using drugs. Recovery is an ongoing process, but it can start at any time. Being faced with a life-or-death situation can be an eye opener for many addicts and their families.

If the person chooses not to accept professional treatment, talk to an addiction specialist about how to handle the situation. Being on the watch for overdoses and administering naloxone is not a permanent solution. You may benefit from staging an intervention or cutting off your loved one financially.

Knowing the signs of heroin overdose is important for everyone, especially those who know a person or people using the drug. An overdose can happen to anyone, whether it’s their first time or their 100th time. By being aware of the warning signs, acting immediately and reaching out for help, you can save a life.

The River Source offers residential addiction treatment in a safe, sober and supportive environment. Call us today to learn more about our successful approach to working with heroin addicts.

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One of the Strongest Opioids Found Laced in Heroin

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The heroin epidemic has been so profound, it has affected almost everyone in some way. Whether it’s a friend, family member, neighbor, coworker or someone’s story on social media, people are seeing heroin for the devastating and life-stealing drug that it is. But while our attention is focused on this substance, there is another one emerging: carfentanil.

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What is Carfentanil?

Carfentanil is one of the strongest opioids in the world, and it’s been referred to as “heroin’s deadlier cousin.” The drug is used by veterinarians to sedate elephants, which means that it doesn’t take much to have an effect on a much smaller human body.

Within the last couple of months, two people in Oregon have overdosed on the drug, according to the Oregon Poison Center. Both users were resuscitated.

The drug has been found in other states as well, including Ohio. Just last month, an Ohio man was charged with murder for selling carfentanil that led to two deaths and ten overdoses in Columbus, and four deaths and 25 overdoses in Akron, Ohio. Health officials issued a warning, which you can read here.

Is Carfentanil Similar to Fentanyl?

Perhaps you’ve noticed that carfentanil sounds a lot like another powerful opioid that we know of: fentanyl. Police are still struggling with fentanyl, as the opioid has already claimed thousands of lives and is in position to steal more.

Like fentanyl, carfentanil can be snorted or injected, as it’s available in a white powder form. The opioid is so powerful, it can make you stop breathing almost instantly. Consider that fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine, while carfentanil is 1,000 times stronger.

Should We Be Worried?

At this time, carfentanil isn’t a widespread problem, but it is a widespread concern. The opioid is not intended for human consumption; it was produced as a general anesthetic for large animals like elephants and rhinos. Because it’s so powerful, just one snort in one second can take a life away.

Currently, there is very little scientific research that details how carfentanil affects humans. To better understand carfentanil, researchers are looking at fentanyl and how it affects the body. But remember, carfentanil is much, much stronger than fentanyl, making its effects far more destructive.

Carfentanil has been found laced with heroin. If you or someone you love is using heroin, now is the time to get the treatment that is needed. Call The River Source to learn more about our treatment programs.

When Heroin Addicts are Most Vulnerable to Overdose

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In today’s post, we want to discuss something very important that we feel doesn’t get enough attention. It has to do with the vulnerability that heroin addicts face when they first leave treatment.

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Heroin Epidemic

Most people who are dealing with addiction are aware of the heroin problem. Heroin use often starts with painkillers that can be found in medicine cabinets or prescribed after a surgery or injury. Heroin is highly addictive and can grab a hold of anyone regardless of where they live and the type of family they grew up in.

Heroin and opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed in the past decade. In 2014 alone, opioids were responsible for more than 28,000 deaths, more than any year on record, according to the CDC.

Who Overdoses from Heroin

When thinking about the people who die from heroin overdoses, it’s usually the stereotypical addict that comes to mind: someone who has a high tolerance to the drug and has hit rock bottom.

While some addicts do overdose from a deadly interaction or from consuming too much of the drug, there’s another group that deserves more attention. This group includes people who have gone through treatment and are relapsing, using heroin for one of the first times in a long time.

Why Newly Recovering Addicts are Vulnerable

Heroin addicts are most vulnerable when leaving treatment for two reasons. First, their tolerance is low. Second, they seek out the same amount of heroin that they’re used to. This is what can lead to a deadly overdose. The heroin is too much for the body to handle and it suppresses breathing, possibly leading to death.

According to one study, it was found that those who had completed a 28-day rehab with full detoxification had extremely high death rates compared to those who had not completed the full 28 days. Because the latter group had not lost their tolerance, they had lower death rates.

In this particular study, 3 out of 37 subjects died from drug poisoning within the first 4 months of completing treatment. You can read more about the study here.

Continuing Care is the Missing Piece

As a holistic treatment center, we are obviously in favor of getting all individuals with drug or alcohol problems professional help. Heroin is such a destructive drug, one has to receive the proper care if they want to get better. What we want people to know is just how important continuing care is. It is just as important, if not more, as those 30, 60 or 90 days in treatment.

The River Source offers relapse prevention services, online continuing care and employment resources to help patients get back on their feet. We also provide education and support to families so that they can help their loved ones stay on track and reduce the risk of relapse.

If you have a loved one coming home to you soon, please keep in mind their vulnerability to both relapse and heroin overdose. You can make the ultimate difference in their life just by being aware.

Could Your Loved One Be Ready to Stop Using Heroin?

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When a loved one has a problem with heroin, it becomes your problem, too. There’s no way that a significant person in your life can continue to abuse drugs and it not take its toll on you. This is normal.

One of the questions we hear a lot from concerned family members is how they can convince their loved one that it’s time to stop. These family members often say that they see their loved one is no longer happy and probably wants to get help, but they don’t know where to start. Unfortunately, many addicts continue using because it’s the easier thing to do, not because they really want to continue being addicted.

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The best thing you can do is to stage an intervention with the help of a professional therapist or interventionist. If you think your loved one is ready to accept help, your intervention may be very successful.

Each person is unique, but we believe that there are some signs that may indicate a willingness to stop using heroin. Let’s take a look.


Does your loved one feel completely detached from everything and everyone? Maybe their only life source these days is the needle. This is a very depressing life, and your loved one may be ready for a change. They may want to feel again, to love again and be loved again.


Another common side effect of heroin use is isolation. It’s difficult to maintain relationships with friends and family when a person only cares about getting high. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that your loved one will cut time with you short just to score more heroin. And when they are with you, they probably aren’t really present.

Usually, isolation and depression feed off each other. The more a person becomes depressed, the more they isolate themselves from others. The more isolated they become, the more depressed they feel.

No Possessions

It’s difficult to have a nice place to live when you’re spending all of your money on drugs. What does your loved one currently have to their name? Many heroin addicts have very little to call their own. If they had a house or a car or nice things, they would pawn them anyway for drug money. Many heroin addicts won’t consider sobriety until they’ve lost everything, a term we’ve come to know as “rock bottom.” Is your loved one there yet?

Legal Consequences

Has your loved one been in trouble with the law? Aside from getting caught with heroin, it’s possible that they may have stolen from someone, engaged in prostitution or been involved in gang activity. It’s also not uncommon for heroin addicts to have imagined legal consequences. Some sit and worry about the cops coming and pounding down their door. This is no way to live a life.

If you believe that your loved one is experiencing these feelings, you may be closer to help than you realize. While a person does not have to be willing to accept treatment for it to work, it is an excellent first step that treatment centers like to see.

To learn more about getting your loved one treatment for a heroin addiction, call The River Source.

What Makes Heroin So Addictive?

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Heroin is often referred to as the most dangerous drug on the streets. People say that it’s so powerful, trying it even once can lead to addiction. But is heroin really that addictive, or are law enforcement, doctors and treatment centers just trying to scare people away from trying the drug?

While it may sound like an exaggeration, the reality is that heroin is exceptionally powerful and addictive. Just one time is enough to get a person hooked and change their life forever.

Many people who experimented with the drug have learned the hard way that heroin is a drug that quickly transitions from recreation to dependence. It doesn’t take long for the body to crave the drug and to think of nothing else but getting more.

Heroin and its Effects on the Brain

To understand what makes heroin so addictive, one must understand how it works in the body. Receptors for heroin are located in the parts of the brain that are responsible for pleasure and the perception of pain. When a person uses heroin, they feel a rush of euphoria and no discomfort whatsoever.

The reward centers of the brain are working hard – and they’re working overtime. This means that once the drug starts to wear off, the brain cells are depleted. If a person continues to use heroin even just a few times in a row, the brain cells can become so tired that they burn out. To avoid this unpleasurable feeling, the user has the urge to use again.

Heroin is Fast Acting

There are other factors that make heroin addictive as well. Some drugs are slow to enter the body, but heroin is not. No matter how the drug is taken (injection, snorting, smoking), it gets into the body quickly and sends a rush of pleasure.

When using heroin, users get so high, it’s almost like they are in a different world rather than just being slightly impaired. The brain remembers this feeling because it is so pronounced, and it craves more.

Seeking Treatment for Heroin Addiction

It doesn’t take long for the brain and nervous system to adjust to the chemical changes that heroin creates. Heroin is remarkably dangerous, and no one can argue with that. However, just because someone you love is hooked on heroin does not mean that their life is over. Help is available, and there is no better time to receive it than now.

Today’s finest treatment centers focus on treating the whole person – mind, body and spirit. This means that your loved one can get the help they need to recover from the addiction while also addressing underlying contributing factors such as impulsivity or co-occurring conditions.

If you would like to learn more about starting the recovery process with The River Source, please call us today.