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Derived from the opioid drug morphine, heroin is a natural substance that came from an Asian opium poppy plant. Named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, heroin comes in a white or brown powder. It even has a version of a black sticky substance called as tar heroin. Street name of heroin includes dope, horse, junk, and smack.

History of the drug

The history of Heroin dates back to the 1800’s when opium was a fairly popular drug. Opium was largely available in ‘opium dens’ in the Wild West. The popularity of opium grew during this time was because of Chinese immigrants who brought the drugs with them. They came to the country to work on railroads constructions.

In 1810, the medical community used heroin as a painkiller. Physicians considered heroin as ‘wonder drug’ because it relieves pains related to medical operations and other traumatic injuries. Heroin also provides a completely numb feeling and a euphoric dream state. In just a few years, in 1850’s heroin was available in the United States and become popular with in the medical profession. The benefits of the drug to treat severe pain astound doctors at that time, and considered a remarkable feat.

The addictive properties of heroin went unseen until after the civil war. During the war, hundreds of soldier undergone medical treatment using the drug increased. As a result, tens of thousands Confederate and Northern soldiers become morphine addicts.

Several giant drug companies began manufacturing over-the-counter drug kits from the late 1800’s until the early 1900’s. These kits often packaged in vials of heroin and as a glass barrelled hypodermic needle. Drug companies marketed the drug as a cure for all types of physical and mental illness. They put up advertisement campaigns that claimed several uses for the drug. These include treatments for:

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • depression
  • colds
  • cough
  • cancer
  • tuberculosis
  • even as a cure for old age

Heroin sales in the United States remain prevalent and unregulated until 1920. The Congress recognized the potential abuse and passed the Dangerous Drug Act. With the new law, the government imposes regulation on selling and distribution of the drug. Unfortunately, when the law passed it was too late for the country. Heroin remains widespread in the US and there was even a market created for the drug. Approximately 200,000 people become heroin addicts in 1925 across the country. The heroin market still persists until this day.

Quick Facts about Heroin addiction:

  • About 13.5 million people around the world take opioids, this includes an estimated 9.2 million who abuse heroin.
  • 93% of the world’s opium supply came from Afghanistan, according to a study conducted in 2007.
  • The opium export value at that time was about $4 billion. Afghan opium farmers got only a quarter of the profit while the rest went to drug traffickers.
  • Opiates, mostly heroin addiction account for 18% of drug treatment admissions in the United States.

What makes the drug addictive?

Common effects of heroin are often found in the brain of the user.  Scientists and health physicians in their studies have discovered that Heroin enters the brain rapidly and changes back into morphine. It binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas of the brain, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem, which controls important processes, such as blood pressure, arousal, and breathing.

Side Effects of the Drug

Heroin affects the brain and the central nervous system. Users experience a brief feeling of euphoria or ‘rush.’ After consuming the drug, it is accompanied with several effects such as:

  • dry mouth
  • flushing of the skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • heavy feelings in the hands and feet
  • clouded mental functioning
  • going “on the nod,
  • relapses in the state of consciousness
  • Reduced sensation of pain
  • Lethargy
  • semi-conscious state

Other effects of the drug may be as follows:

  • collapsed veins
  • infection of the heart lining and valves
  • abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus),
  • constipation and stomach aches
  • liver or kidney disease
  • lung complications, including various types of pneumonia

Aside from the common side effects of the drug, heroin contains a dangerous chemical that can block blood vessels. Some of the permanent health complications include:

  • lung complications
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C

Users have a higher risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

They can get diseases because of sharing needles with other people. Under the influence, users may also have impaired judgment due to drug abuse.  Furthermore, scientists claim that a person can overdose themselves with Heroin.  When users take too of the drug, it produces a toxic chemical reaction. It often leads to serious and harmful complications even death.

Warning signs of overdose from heroin often manifest the following:

  • Weak pulse
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish appearance of nails or lips
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Disorientation or delirium
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Repeated episodes of loss of consciousness
  • Coma

When users suffer from a heroin overdose, it decreases the amount of oxygen supply in the body. A condition known as hypoxia, it can result in short and long-term mental effects. The disease can slow the user’s breathing and can permanently damage the central nervous system, brain damage even death.

Signs and symptoms of the drug

Signs of people who abuse Heroin include but may not be limited to the following:

  • Sleepiness
  • nodding off
  • unexplained periods of euphoria
  • suddenly by severe fatigue
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • declining responsibility for work or performance at school
  • covering the body with long pants and long sleeves even if it is hot
  • lying
  • thefts
  • criminal activity
  • missing money
  • odd sleeping patterns
  • weight loss
  • scabs and sores from picking at skin
  • runny or itchy nose
  • slurred speech

A number of health care facility offer treatments for heroin addiction. This may include pharmacological or medications and behavioral programs. Both treatment programs help restore a normal function of the brain and behavior. Such treatments can increased employment rates and lessen criminal behavior. Once treated, users have a lower risk of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

Medications and behavioral treatments can greatly help users even if utilized alone. However, research shows that for most people, integrating both treatment programs proved as the most effective approach.

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