According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Heroin is one of the most addictive and fastest acting illicit drugs currently on the market. Heroin is extracted from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that comes from the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. It was first developed in the late 1800’s, though it was not used for medicinal purposes until the early 1900’s. Believing they had discovered a new pain remedy, those in the medical field fully supported its use. It wasn’t long before they began to realize how easy heroin addiction is and with the passing of the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 it became an illicit drug with no medical use in the US.
Most of the heroin that comes into the US is from South America (Columbia) and Mexico, though Burma and Afghanistan also produce high amounts of the drug. The highest purity heroin is from South America. It is often sold in eastern regions of the United States, and although it varies in color from white to dark brown, it has the lowest percentage of other drugs and substances “cut” into it. “Black tar” heroin, named for its dark color and thick, sticky consistency, comes from Mexico and is found primarily in the western portions of the country.
One of the draws to first time users of heroin is the various forms of administration. Heroin can be melted down and injected intravenously, snorted, or smoked. The method of use is a leading factor in the short term effects of the drug. Users who inject heroin intravenously will usually experience a rush within 7-8 seconds, while those who inject intramuscularly will receive a slower, more euphoric experience that can take 5-8 minutes. Smoking or snorting heroin achieves the slowest response, with the peak typically around 10-15 minutes.
Short term effects also include dryness of the mouth, warm flushed skin, and heaviness in the extremities. The long term effects of heroin use are, however, much more severe. Consistent users may experience collapsed veins, infections in the lining and valves of the heart, abscesses, liver disease, and respiratory problems. Often there are other substances added to the heroin that, once injected, can cause blocks in blood vessels leading to the vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, lungs, and liver. Because heroin is so addictive, chronic users often develop a tolerance to the drug and therefore must continue increasing the amount that they use. This increases not only the addiction but also the physical repercussions.
Recovery from heroin addiction is difficult but not impossible. Addicts who take heroin on a regular basis can begin to experience withdrawals in as little as a few hours after their last use. The symptoms of withdrawal include cravings, restlessness, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, cold flashes, and goose bumps. These symptoms typically peak during the first 2-3 days after the last use but will begin to recede after a week. Many facilities offer detoxification, behavioral therapy, and medication to prevent relapse. With the right treatment, former heroin users can go on to lead healthy, successful lives.