Treating Heroin Epidemic

two guys passing a heroin needle

Obama Addresses Heroin Epidemic

Heroin isn’t just the psychedelic drug from the 60’s, it’s an epidemic that affects millions of people across the globe.

According to NBC News, in March, the Obama administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at the opioid and heroin epidemic.

The initiative is going to be aimed towards improving medication-based treatment, Medicaid coverage for treatment and the availability of Naloxone, a drug that can save people from an overdose.

Heroin, which is derived from poppy plants, is highly addictive and lethal. According to Web MD, it’s been illegal in the U.S since 1924, and it can come in the form of a white or brown powder, or black tar.

Heroin travels to the brain quickly and causes a euphoric sensation or rush. It slows down the heart rate and breathing and blocks pain messages from the brain. If a person overdoses on heroin, they may stop breathing and die.

Since 2003, heroin deaths have increased approximately 300 percent. According to Web MD, drug experts has linked this increase to the opioid epidemic of the early 2000s.

When opioids, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, became more expensive, addicts turned to a cheaper alternative, heroin.

Recently, treatment centers have improved its inpatient treatment programs to better target heroin addictions.

Equipping people with right information about Heroin may prevent thousands of deaths each year.

Who Does Heroin Affect?

Despite, society associating drug use with lower-income communities, heroin addiction has spread to upper-class neighborhoods.

Take Baltimore, Maryland for instance.

It’s the heroin capital of the United States. According to ABC News, the city’s health department reported one in every ten people either smoked, snorted or injected heroine.

That means, in a city of 645,000 people, that the number of heroin addicts tracked are at 60,000.

Baltimore is also known for being a popular location for drug trafficking of pure heroin from South America.

According to the article titled, “Part 1: Baltimore is the U.S. Heroin Capital,” the city estimates that the number of addicts in the city will only increase.

Analyzing the epidemic by age, gender, and race, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention released graphs showing the movement of heroin since the early 2000s.

In 2000, heroin abuse affected African Americans ages 45 to 64 the most. More than a decade and a half later, that has changed drastically. Heroin use has surged in suburban areas.

More specifically, white males, ages 18 to 25, are at the highest risk for addiction. The charts also showed that heroin abuse is decreasing in ethnic communities as white Americans, ages 18 to 44, have the highest reported use.

The charts also showed that, in general, heroin use in Americans ages 18 to 25 increased 109 percent and increased 58 percent for Americans 26 and older.

The CDC connected the increase of heroin addiction to the increase in painkiller addictions. Painkiller addicts are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

According to the CDCs study, heroin addiction stalks a diverse group of people. For instance, in 2014, award-winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was found dead in his home from a heroin overdose.

Recently, the shocking death of Prince, a pop superstar, has also shined a bright light on the opium epidemic because painkillers were allegedly found near his body, according to reports by NBC, CNN and CBS.

Although a coroner or medical expert has yet to release his cause of death, the circumstances reveal that anyone can become at risk for an opioid addiction.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medication, in 2014, more than 10,000 people died from a heroin-related death. Opioid deaths in2008 had nearly quadrupled from the 90s at almost 20,000 deaths.

heroin on a spoon with needle

Heroin Statistics and Effects

Heroin’s relationship with the American drug culture can be tracked way back to the Wild West era of the mid-1800s. In an article on, titled “The Birth of the American Heroin Addict,” opioid abuse begins with western cowboys. Contrary to popular depictions, many of them were addicted to opioids, which was brought to America by Chinese immigrants.

By 1810, scientists had discovered the medical benefits of morphine. Morphine was used to stop pain during medical surgeries and treatments. By 1850, morphine surged in the medical realm and was available all over the Unite States. It was also popular during the Civil War to treat war injuries.

After the war, many war veterans and citizens were addicted to morphine, which leads to the introduction of a new German drug, heroin. In 1874, heroin was introduced to the U.S. as a safer, non-addictive alternative to morphine.

Ironically, more than a century later, heroin is still feeding the opioid addiction in the U.S.

Today, the effects of Heroin makes it hard and dangerous to wean off of.

The side effects of Heroin addiction are:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infections of the heart lining and valves
  • Skin affections like abscesses and cellulitis
  • High risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
  • Lung disease, like pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Miscarriages
  • Bad teeth
  • Depression
  • Introversion
  • Coma
  • Inflation of gums
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to achieve orgasm

Depending on the longevity of addiction, the body will build a tolerance to heroin. Therefore, addicts will double or triple their use over time in order to pursue the same euphoric rush from their earlier stages.

This becomes dangerous because the chances of death are higher and the addict’s body will become dependent on the drug.

Experiences during heroin detox includes:

  • Nausea
  • Jittery feeling
  • Chills
  • Bone and muscle pain

These symptoms may scare off an addict from getting treatment but here’s the bigger picture:

(International statistics were reported on the Foundation for a Drug-Free World’s website)

  • An estimated 13.5 million people in the world take opioids and 9.2 million use heroin
  • The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 153,000 users in the U.S., but other reports have estimated as high as 900,000.
  • Heroin accounts for 18 percent of admissions for drug and alcohol treatment in the U.S
  • In 2008, in Europe, 4 out of every 5 drug-related deaths are involved mainly heroin.

Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction

            Medical and therapeutic practices are used to treat heroin addictions.

Medication can decrease the risk of infectious disease, decrease drug use, and criminal activity. Since detox symptoms are severe for heroin addicts, medication decreases the urge to relapse on heroin.

The three types of medication are agonists, which activate opioid receptors, partial agonists, which produces less response than the agonists, and antagonists, which stops the sensation of opioid use.

Common medication used in heroin therapy are:

  • Methadone: A slow acting opioid agonist
  • Buprenorphine: A partial agonist that relieves drug cravings without the rush
  • Naltrexone: an opioid antagonist that blocks the opioid receptors.

Behavioral therapies are used in inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Some of the therapies used are contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapies.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches the client how to reduce their coping mechanisms with drug use and how to learn to deal with stressors in other ways.

During contingency management, clients are rewarded with vouchers, which can be traded for retail items, for negative drug tests.

Still, drug experts believe a combination of medication and therapy is most effective for one of the worst addiction of opioid.

Fortunately, the government and treatment centers are beginning to respond to the epidemic by making medication more readily available, and improving rehab techniques.

Finding the proper treatment for a heroin addiction is vital to save the lives of thousands of addicts, and to prevent the drug from leaking into the next generation.


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