The United States is dealing with a huge epidemic of drugs. More than 175 Americans are dying today from opioid overdose and many feel this number may not peak for years to come. While there is an increase in overdoses, others are suffering from opioid addiction. The crisis had reached a point where it is a risk to public health. Some blame the medical field, for the over-prescribing of pain medicines. Heroin is an illegal drug derived from a poppy plant that is highly addictive and can produce deep feelings of euphoria.
As of today, heroin is a schedule 1 drug and highly addictive but it was not always that way. There are many street names, like Black Tar, China White, Dope, Eight, H, Horse, Smack, and many others. The way heroin looks depends on where it comes from. White heroin comes from Southeast Asia, Off white-light brown from Columbia, Brown from South West Asia, or dark brown/black from Mexico. Smoking heroin in the United States does not tend to smoke heroin but may inhale or inject it.
Heroin was not invented until the late 1800s and was branded a non-addictive cough suppressant on the public market. Bayer Laboratories marketed it to the public because it had minor effects. It wasn’t until the mid-19th-century that opioid dependency began to develop. Long-term opioid use became a patent medicine and a standard to self-medicate. Heroin started as a cough suppressant, then a pain reliever, much like morphine until it was finally banned in the Heroin Act of 1924.
Illegal Abuse of heroin began when heroin was smuggled in from China.
This spread quickly until the Mafia drug distributors took over. Between 1965 and 1970, there were more addicts in the country. With the Vietnam War going on, many feared the heroin epidemic would rise, and they were correct. South Vietnam held 95 percent pure heroin sold openly. It wasn’t until 1971 that reports stated that 10-15 percent of American troops were dependent on heroin. That is when the US government began to step in and regulated urine tests before discharge. After, President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to battle the drug epidemic on June 1, 1973. Once heroin is smoked, snorted, or injected, it converts and binds to opioid receptors that control pain perception, reward, blood pressure, and breathing. Arousal is also affected while using heroin. Heroin induces a high immediately after taking it and last for about 30 minutes. The high can consist of “ the nod’; a back and forth state of consciousness and time consciousness. This feeling gives a cloudy mental ability and inability to function. Heroin causes concern because it has the potential to cause respiratory depression because of the toxicity potential and the dependence potential. This continues the pattern for addicts to use. Tolerance depends on the usage but with repeat experiences, it increases.
There are usually negative psychological behaviors that accompany heroin use. Since the injection is the cheapest and easiest drug to hide, it became more common because the “high” was so intense. That is one reason heroin could turn into an expensive habit, the intense high. This can cause some heroin users to into criminals. As heroin use increased so did the illegal acts to support their habit. Crime rates were on the rise and so were health issues. People who engaged in drug use or risky behaviors tend to have an increase in spreading disease. Heroin use was concerned with Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. The viruses can spread thru make more risky behaviors. Sharing needles also was a major concern in spreading diseases. When the AIDS epidemic started, a harm reduction program began and clean needles started to be distributed. The government was trying to get control of the epidemic that was rising. In 1981, the purity level of heroin was around 10 percent, and the price of a gram was 3260. By 1999, the purity of heroin increased to close to 40 percent, and paid less. Since 1999, purity levels rose and prices stayed low. Today, heroin is between 40 – and 60 percent pure. People in the last few years had started using synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. Fentanyl is a lethal drug. Since fentanyl is so much cheaper and more potent than heroin is a deadly combination. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that heroin and fentanyl are most likely combined and increases the risk of overdoses. Many drug dealers have been mixing the two and causing an increase in overdoses.
This didn’t decrease till the government began to prosecute those drug dealers. Fentanyl raised the risk of heroin abuse and became deadly combined with heroin. Fentanyl affects opioid receptors. Those receptors control breathing rates. Too much can cause breathing to stop and it can lead to death. Since 1999, opioid deaths have increased by more than 5 times it was similar to the death statistics during the AIDS epidemic. In the United States, almost 600 people use heroin for the first time. The US government has bulked up efforts to cut supplies of heroin. Federal and state officials have even begun having more treatment centers, focusing less on punishment and more on treatments. Doctors are also monitoring and screening patients, especially since many blame the medical field for the increase in opioid dependency. Federal and State agencies, insurance companies, and physicians are trying to battle this growing epidemic. There are new limits on prescriptions and how physicians can prescribe them. In 1989, the George H W Bush administration provided non-violent offenders aid with rehabilitation services and probation rather than jail time. In 2016, President Obama granted more than a billion dollars in funding. This funding was for state grants, treatment programs, and prevention programs. Naloxone, a drug that can counteract heroin overdoses was available. Harm reduction programs were launched to help provide a safer drug use, to help contain it. This continued even till now, while President Trump is in office. In October 2017, President Trump declared a public health epidemic, to give more money to the crisis of heroin use. Heroin addiction cannot be cured but it can be treated.
Medical Assistant Treatment is providing a safe level to overcome heroin use. Withdrawals symptoms of heroin are harsh and can make some fear stopping. Drugs like methadone Suboxone and Buprenorphine are used to help battle and overcome addiction. These medicines are to help block the receptors in the brain so no physical symptoms are prevented and reduce the cravings. If these medicines are taken correctly, they can help addicts function normally. These treatments need to be maintained and supervised. Although for use of these medicines, you need to be withdrawing from heroin, it will help ease the rest of the existing withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing heroin is painful and intense. Users begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours of their last use. Heroin leaves the body faster than most other drugs and that is why withdrawals are more intense. Symptoms include, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, agitation, diarrhea, dilated pupils, sweating, anxiety, abdominal cramping, and muscle aches. While the symptoms are intense, then the length of withdrawals depends on many factors. Depending on how much you use and how often affects the withdrawal symptoms. The effects of moods and behaviors can last for months even when withdrawal symptoms pass. Some long-lasting symptoms might include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and irritability. It usually takes about a week to go through withdrawals physically because of the effects of heroin withdrawal, which leads to relapse at times.
With the increasing epidemic, the public and government began to become concerned. Naloxone has been made to help with the survival of overdoses on heroin. Today, several people have access to Naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. It’s an antagonist, that blocks receptors and reverses the effects of opioids. It can quickly restore a person to the response. There are three forms that Naloxone is available. They are injectable, auto-injectable, and nasal spray. Depending on the state you live in, depends on who can dispense Naloxone. Here in NYS, Naloxone is extremely safe and people should be observed for at least 2 hours after its dispensed. Heroin for decades has been the most commonly used opioid illegally. The supply in the US has soared and death rates have increased. Drug overdoses are now today’s leading cause of accidental death. Reducing heroin addiction and overdoses, public awareness and support, emergency medical departments, and medical doctors to work together. There should be more access to MAT treatment and counseling with behavioral therapy to help in the battle of addiction. Heroin seems to get popular every few decades. Starting in the 1970s then taking a backseat to crack. Now, the heroin epidemic is on the rise. It is impossible to determine the contents of heroin on the streets because they are cut with other substances. Films like Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, and deaths of popular celebrities like Kurt Cobain and Mac Miller. One of the dangers of heroin cause individuals to become physically and psychologically dependent and interfere with the normal functions of life. Very rarely, do people use heroin and don’t develop an addiction but usually get hooked after their first time using. A quarter of the people develop a dependency on it.
There are many treatments available to help battle heroin addiction. What you experience during heroin addiction treatment varies on the individual. Factors like the length of use, amount of use, and the environment. Recovery will depend on the ability to understand and cope with challenges and any other issues, like mental disorders, that may contribute to the dependency. Residential treatment centers, rehabilitation services, therapy, and 12-step programs like NA are available. The first step is admitting that one has a problem and then it’s withdrawal. This withdrawal time allows for chemical withdrawal from the drug. To free the body of the mind and mood-altering substance. Prescriptions for methadone or suboxone can be obtained medically to help with the symptoms of withdrawals. However, the MAT medications need to be monitored so there is no abuse to them. As the withdrawal symptoms come to an end, therapy should be started. Programs and therapy are essential to the recovery process. It allows a place of security and non-judgment. Families of heroin addicts tend to go to therapy also, to cope with the family changes and challenges. Staying connected to an outpatient program is important in recovery. Medically Assisted Heroin Detox, cognitive behavior therapy, 12-step programs. Education lectures, counseling, and family therapy are all sources available. Heroin/opioid addiction is serious and treatable but not curable.
There is so much help available to anyone who has a problem. Education is key to treating opioid addiction. Harm reduction programs help minimize the worldwide effects of heroin use. Many people argue the federal government should battle the public health crisis. As of January 2018, there is no head of the DEA as overdoses are on the rise. The federal government needs to rethink its mission to battle this epidemic. The Food and Drug Administration keeps approving and marketing new highly addictive opioids to the marketplace. More availability of opioids gives a greater risk for abuse. AS the DEER tries to limit manufacturers of pills and crackdown on doctors and illegal drug dealers, other forms become available. There needs to be more authority to impose change. Funding is also under the control of multiple departments in the government. The task should be to educate health professionals and take begin new testing approaches to this epidemic and manage better treatment plans. In times of crisis, a major change needs to happen and leadership needs to be announced. The DEA, FDA, law enforcement, and National Institute of Drug Abuse and Substance Abuse Mental Health Administration along with the Center for disease control should work together. We need to change how this country views addiction and how to prevent addiction worldwide epidemic. The programs for treatment and prevention will cost billions of dollars. Without centralizing responsibility and finding the right leadership, we will lose much more than money, we will continue to lose lives and society will continue to break down.