Table of Contents
What Is Heroin?
Heroin death is on the rise. Heroin is a potent opioid drug that can be injected, taken as a pill, or smoked. It is made from morphine and is highly addictive, with heroin addiction rates skyrocketing in recent years. Those who abuse this drug may suffer from a heroin death.
People struggling with heroin addiction often feel euphoric and relaxed when they use this substance. The drug can also cause dry mouth, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, lowered sex drive, and insomnia.
How Addictive Is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive substance. The first step towards addiction is developing a tolerance to the drug where people need higher amounts of the drug to experience the same effects.
A person develops an addiction to heroin when their drug use leads to health problems and they begin having difficulties meeting responsibilities at work, school, or home. Studies linked heroin use with loss of the brain’s white matter. This area in the brain is associated with decision-making, behavior control, and how people respond to stress.1
Heroin belongs to a drug class called opioids. Opioids are a broad class of drugs typically used to relieve pain. The term “opioid” is derived from the word “opium.” Opiates are natural or synthetic opioids derived from opium.
Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified heroin as a Schedule I drug. This classification means that it is considered to have no medical use and is highly addictive.
Some of the most common street names of heroin include:
- Black tar
How Is Heroin Used?
There are three common ways of using heroin:
In recent years, snorting heroin has become more popular as it is less risky than smoking or injecting it. Another reason why many people snort heroin is that snorting does not involve any tools, such as a syringe or rolling paper.
To snort heroin, people only need heroin in a powder form, a flat surface, and a rolled-up paper or straw.
Smoking heroin involves burning the substance and inhaling the smoke. Generally, people smoke heroin from a glass pipe or heat it on foil to inhale the fumes. When smoked, the substance reaches the brain more quickly, compared to snorting the drug.
Heroin can also be injected intravenously in liquid form. People inject the drug directly into their veins through the use of a hypodermic needle which provides the fastest onset of drug effects.
Signs of Snorting Heroin
The most common physical and behavioral signs of heroin use include:
How Heroin Affects Your Eyes
There is a term called heroin eyes that refers to how heroin use changes the appearance of the eyes. People who are high on heroin will have tiny pupils, and their eyes may seem droopy. Heroin can also make someone’s eyes appear more red and bloodshot.
Other Physical Symptoms
A runny nose and constant sniffling are other signs of snorting heroin due to the histamine that heroin releases into the body. Chronic nasal irritation is another physical symptom of snorting heroin. The nose of a regular user may seem chronically red, and they may constantly rub the opening of the nostrils.
The most common behavioral symptoms of heroin use include:
- Lying or deceptive behavior
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Hostile behavior toward loved ones
- Poor personal hygiene
- Weight loss
What Happens If You Snort Heroin?
- Mood swings
- Hostility toward others
- Agitation and irritability
Some of the immediate physical symptoms of heroin use include a dry mouth, flushing of the skin, and a feeling of heaviness in the extremities. Other possible symptoms are severe itching, nausea, and vomiting. The individual may feel drowsy and experience a clouded mental function. Slowed down heart function and shallow breathing are also possible.2
Risks of Heroin Addiction
Overdose is the most life-threatening consequence of heroin addiction. A heroin overdose is when someone takes too much heroin, which can lead to slowed breathing, coma, and death. Some of the most common symptoms of heroin overdose include:
- Erratic, slow, or shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Changes in body coloration (for example, skin turning blue or purple)
- Limp or unresponsive muscles
One of the most common ways to prevent an overdose is by administering Naloxone, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioids. Naloxone is given as a shot into a muscle or just under the skin.
Heroin use increases the risk of contracting HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious agents through contact with infected blood or body fluids. Heroin users are known to share syringes and engage in unprotected sexual acts with an infected person.3
Other health risks include:
- Lung complications
- Lowered immune system
- Mental health issues
- Collapsed veins
- Infections of blood vessels and heart valves
- Soft-tissue infections
Heroin Death Rate
Snorting Heroin Causing Death
One study has found that snorting heroin carries the same risk of sudden death as injecting it. During 1997-1998, researchers observed six heroin deaths that happened suddenly following heroin snorting. The deceased were temporary drug users with good health and physical condition.
However, three of the deceased had high blood alcohol concentrations, and two were under the influence of medicinal drugs. According to researchers, periodic abuse of heroin is associated with low drug tolerance.4 5
Heroin Death Statistics
The number of heroin deaths in 2019 was 6% lower than in 2018. Despite this, in 2019, more than 14,000 people died from a heroin overdose in the United States. Compared to 1999, the number of heroin deaths due to overdose is seven times higher. In addition, a third of all overdose deaths involve heroin.6
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
The best way to detox from heroin is with medical supervision to minimize heroin withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The withdrawal from heroin can be a long and challenging process. In addition to the physical side effects of the drug leaving the system, patients will also experience intense cravings that can result in relapse.
MAT for opioid addiction uses medications like methadone and buprenorphine to reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms. These medications can also help prevent cravings for opioids. MAT works by filling the opioid receptors in the brain with the treatment medication instead of an opioid. This helps patients avoid using other opioids or alcohol to treat withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for heroin addiction. It is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help patients change their negative beliefs and behaviors. Patients can learn valuable skills for dealing with life’s challenges without resorting to opioid use.