If you’re concerned that someone you love has become addicted to heroin, the first thing you need to know is that help is available. There is hope.
Perhaps you’re overwhelmed. You know little about heroin and drug addiction. You’re concerned that you may be wrong. Maybe the person will get angry if you try to help. Don’t worry about those things. This article will help educate you about heroin addiction and what you can do to help.
What is Heroin?
It’s a semi-synthetic derivative of opium. It was developed in Germany in the late 1800’s by the Bayer company. Interestingly, it was named heroin because it was thought to be a heroic drug that could cure morphine addiction. Of course, this is not the case. Heroin is probably even more addictive than morphine.
Heroin was once available over the counter. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a common ingredient in patent medicines for cough and pain.
The Opioid Epidemic
You’ve doubtless heard about the opioid epidemic. This refers to the millions of people who abuse prescription opioids. It refers to heroin, too. Heroin is even more dangerous than prescription opioids because there is never any way to be sure what’s really in it, let alone the strength of any particular batch. It could contain many times the user’s normal dose. It may even contain poisons. It could contain a powerful opioid known as fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug about 50 times stronger than average street heroin. It’s often used to cut heroin. There is no way to know just by looking if the heroin contains fentanyl or not.
Heroin has no accepted legal medical use in the United States. This means that all heroin purchased here comes through illegal channels, with no standard for purity or quality control.
There is a heroin epidemic just the same as there is a prescription opioid drug epidemic. In fact, they are closely related. Many heroin addicts started out as prescription opioid addicts. When their doctors cut them off, these addicts turned to the black market to buy their pills. When purchased with a doctor’s prescription from a legal pharmacy, most prescription opioids are relatively cheap.
But when purchased on the black market, that is another matter. It’s not at all unusual for a 30mg oxycodone tablet to sell for at least $30. That’s a dollar a milligram, with prices for that same pill rising to as high as $50, depending upon the area’s supply and demand situation.
Few people can afford this, so they turn to the much-cheaper heroin.
Signs of Abuse
Someone abusing this drug may suddenly always be broke. They may become slovenly in their personal grooming and habits. You may find pieces of tin foil and syringes around. Other signs:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Track marks on the arms and elsewhere
- Suddenly slumping into sleep
- Scratching at the skin
- Loss of interest in friends, family and activities
- Inability to hold a job
Someone who is abusing heroin may seem like a different person. They may lie, cheat and steal to get their dose. When dealing with a heroin addict, you need to be firm and patient. Don’t let them manipulate you. Your job is to do whatever you can to get them into treatment.
Heroin can be snorted, injected or smoked. For smoking, it’s often placed on pieces of tin foil and heated from beneath with a lighter. As the vapors rise, a straw or rolled-up bill is used to suck them into the user’s nostrils. This is known as chasing the dragon.
Heroin Injection and Endocarditis
Although heroin can be snorted, smoked and even ingested orally, it’s very often injected. This provides the strongest high for the smallest amount used. Many addicts consider any other method to be a waste of precious product. This is very, very dangerous.
Overdose is only one way that heroin can kill. Endocarditis, or an infection of the heart valves, is another. When addicts inject heroin, which is hardly sterile, bacteria present in the heroin can cause different types of infections. If the needle is also not sterile, it can contribute more bacteria. These bacteria can cause skin abcesses and blood poisoning, just to name two. But endocarditis is especially dangerous.
Heart valves are necessary to life. They control the way oxygenated blood is pumped to the entire body. Infection can destroy a heart valve to the point that it no longer functions well enough to support life. If given in time, antibiotics can save a heart valve, but sometimes the damage is already done. In that case, open heart surgery to repair or replace the valve is the only option, other than death.
Even after repair, patients can be left with lifelong weakness, chest pain and shortness of breath. Often, medications are required for life. This situation is totally avoidable.
How to Help a Heroin Addict
Confront the person in a gentle way in a private setting. Tell them that they are hurting you, their family and themselves. Tell them about fentanyl and endocarditis. They may not realize that they’re putting their hearts on the line. Avoid threats. They rarely work, and you don’t want someone going into treatment by force. That rarely works, either. The idea is to convince them to go voluntarily. Reassure them that their detox won’t be painful. They won’t be left to go cold turkey alone. Medications to ease their withdrawal symptoms are available. Treatment centers near Scranton have medication protocols for this. They also will provide counseling to help prevent future relapse.
You don’t have to be an addict yourself to call for help. You can call a treatment center on behalf of someone else. You can call us 24 hours a day, at 888-380-0342. Trained counselors will be able to advise you on your best course of action to encourage your loved one to get help. We are here to help, and we are waiting for your call.