According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,482 in 2017 – an increase of nearly 700 percent in less than two decades. That makes these drugs one of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S.
Because the use of opioid drugs like heroin continues to be responsible for significant numbers of overdoses and deaths, it is essential to understand the effects of heroin use and the available options for treating heroin addiction.
Are Prescription Medications the Gateway to Heroin Use?
Prescription painkillers such as OxyContin belong to the same class of drugs as heroin. Both derive from the opium poppy, and both create similar feelings of euphoria when they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain.
Prescriptions of opioids spiked beginning in the mid-1990s – thanks in part to a company called Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, which has recently faced high-profile legal trouble over the misleading marketing tactics they used to encourage doctors to prescribe their drugs liberally. It has since come to light that Purdue Pharma CEO Richard Sackler did nothing to counteract the misconception that OxyContin was safe and not addictive, failing to alert prescribing physicians the drug was stronger than morphine.
The recent comeback of heroin traces back to the rapid decline in prescriptions that occurred after many state governments passed stricter regulations regarding who could prescribe opioids and for how long patients could use them. When their legally acquired prescriptions ran out and it became difficult for them to get more, patients who already had a tolerance to these drugs began looking to another opioid – heroin – to replace their medications.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use
Heroin causes users to experience euphoria. The intensity and duration of this blissful feeling depend largely on the method and dosage of consumption. Heroin also leads users to report feeling as if their body has become heavier, especially in their arms and legs. People on heroin also slip in and out of consciousness in a phenomenon known as being “on the nod.”
Heroin users tend to have slower reaction times, which can lead to accidental injury if they slip and fall, or if they burn themselves while trying to cook something. Heroin use also suppresses breathing, which can lead to respiratory failure.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use
When someone has been using heroin for a longer time, they have almost always built up their tolerance to the point that it takes increasingly higher doses of the drug to create the same high. When the body can’t take any more of the damaging effects, overdose and death can occur.
Heroin addiction can lead to many risky and dangerous long-term effects, including:
- Extreme withdrawal symptoms when ceasing use
- Collapsed veins or contraction of bloodborne diseases from intravenous drug use
- Kidney and heart problems
- Poisoning from other drugs, like fentanyl, added to cut heroin
Managing Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
The withdrawal symptoms that accompany quitting heroin are notorious for their intensity, which may last as long as a week depending on how much, how long and how often you have used the drug. Even people who genuinely want to break free of a heroin addiction may find they are unable to do so if their symptoms become unbearable.
If you are struggling with an addiction to heroin and have been unable to stop using on your own, medically managed detox can be the solution to start the process of reclaiming your health and improving your quality of life. At Inland Detox, we are Southern California’s leading inpatient detox facility, and we are here to help you overcome your withdrawal symptoms and transition smoothly into the next stages of your recovery. If you are ready to take control over your addiction, contact us so we can help you get started with our program.