Heroin is an addictive drug. Its' use is a serious problem in America. Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It usually appears as a white or brown powder. Its' street names include "smack," "H," "skag," and "junk." Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a specific geographical area, such as "Mexican Black Tar."
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and, particularly in users who inject the drug, infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
One of the many effects of heroin abuse is soon after a single dose, which can last a few hours, the user reports detailing a surge of euphoria (a "rush") accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth and heavy extremities. Usually after this initial euphoria, the user "goes on the nod," an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system.
Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use. After a period of time, chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulitis and liver disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from the heroin's depressing effects on respiration.
In addition to the critical effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. The ultimate outcome could be lethal.
With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity of effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependency and addictions develop. With physical dependency, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if the user reduces or stops the drug.
Withdrawal, which in regular users may occur as early as a few hours after the last use, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with the goose bumps, kicking movements and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal (according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse).
When we hear about heroin use, we probably think about it as a street drug, usually found in urban settings among the poor. Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic is infecting every small town everywhere. It is present on most high school and college campuses across the country. What is even more disturbing is that we are getting a growing number of reports of junior high school students snorting heroin. After one use, a person can become highly addicted to this lethal drug. Heroin use is not like popping pills or smoking weed, it is potentially much more life threatening.
Parents need to wake up. This is not an epidemic that is happening a million miles away. It is happening and destroying young lives right in our community. The lack of resources to effectively treat this lethal addiction is equally frightening.
There is no particular profile for today's heroin user. They are male and female, rich and poor, well educated and not so well educated. Heroin is not picky. It will victimize anyone willing to risk. Unfortunately, too many high school and college age students think they are invincible.
In our community, heroin use is out of control. Our schools need to confront the truth. Our parents need to take the blinders off and become much more proactive in protecting their children from this life threatening drug.
This white powder is rearing its' ugly head everywhere. There will not be a party among high school and college age students this weekend where heroin won't be available. A frightening number of our young people will try it for the first time. Many will become addicted and will start to do anything to get their fix.
In the field of addiction, there is a wide range of thinking on how to treat a heroin addict. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that works across the board. What is clear is that a heroin addict needs a strong detox experience usually followed by at least a 28 day rehabilitation experience. After formal treatment, most heroin addicts need to be followed up, both medically and psychologically with ongoing counseling and utilizing the support of Narcotics Anonymous.
The challenge is to find a detox that has a bed when you need it in a rehabilitation center that takes your insurance for more than five days. The politics of drug and alcohol treatment is a scandal. Too many young people in need have died literally waiting to be processed by the insurance bureaucracy.
The other challenge, based on my experience, is that most young people with a heroin addiction need much more than a 28 day rehab program. They need a long-term, structured experience. They need to learn how to navigate in recovery within a world that is out of control with reckless decision making around drugs and alcohol.
TJ is twenty-two. He left college because of a series of poor choices around drug use. It started with popping prescription medication to becoming addicted to it. It quickly lost its' charm. While at a party, TJ was turned on to heroin. He began using whenever he could. He started stealing for it. It began with stealing small amounts of money from home, and then he stole from his mother's jewelry box to cover his fix.
He masked his heroin use by drinking, so his parents never caught on. They only became aware that there was a problem when TJ was arrested for attempting to break into a home in his neighborhood. Upon his arrest, he was as high as a kite. A blood test was ordered. He tested off the page with heroin in his system.
Needless to say, his parents were shocked and appalled. TJ is the oldest of three children. He was a high school all-American and a reasonable student. His parents are well educated and successful. On paper, they look like the perfect, all-American family. Presently, they are shattered. Their son has a heroin addiction. Every form of treatment to date, has failed. TJ is facing a possible prison sentence for burglary.
TJ had been to several rehabilitation programs. He completes them, and then a few days later he's getting high.
Most recently, TJ had a few months clean. He seemed to be doing so much better. Unbeknownst to his parents, when he went to meetings, he was also looking for ways to hook up and get heroin. A few weeks ago, he was hanging out with friends. He went outside to smoke. Without his friends' knowledge, he met someone who gave him a bag of heroin and convinced him not to snort, but to shoot up. He came in, went into the bathroom and did just that. He came out and sat amongst his friends. A few minutes later, he passed out and stopped breathing. Thanks to his friends' quick response - performing CPR and calling the Port Jefferson Ambulance, TJ's life was saved by minutes. The professional and competent response of the Port Jefferson Ambulance was extraordinary. They truly saved a life that night. He was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital and for a number of hours, it was touch and go.
He did recover and is presently in another rehab. The question is: what happens when he gets discharged this time? What will change his life? What will cause him to live differently? TJ could be anyone's son, brother or friend!