Heroin is a commonly abused, illegal drug in the United States. A member of the opiate family, it’s derived from the opium poppy plant and made from morphine. Heroin addiction is a rampant disease that claims thousands of lives every year, and it’s only getting worse, as many people use heroin as a last resort drug to feed their prescription painkiller addiction. In the past few years, nearly 80 percent of people attributed their heroin use to prescription opioid use. Therefore, prescription opioid use is one of the risk factors for heroin use.
If you’re addicted to heroin or know someone who is, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. To better understand how this drug can be treated, it’s important to address the following questions: “What is heroin?” and “Is heroin addictive?”
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What Is Heroin?
Exactly what is heroin? This is a commonly asked question regarding this substance. Known as dope, smack, horse and junk, heroin can appear as a white or brown powder or a sticky substance called black tar heroin. Heroin is an opiate, a natural derivative of the opium poppy plant seed pod, and it elicits feelings of elation and pleasure (a “high”) that people get addicted to. However, the adverse effects of use and abuse are too serious and harmful to ignore.
Although heroin is made from morphine, it changes back into morphine after it enters the brain. After binding to opioid receptors, the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and mood are triggered. Such areas include the brain stem, which is responsible for controlling important autonomic bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing and arousal. Heroin can be ingested by snorting it, smoking it or injecting it subdermally (under the skin), intramuscularly (into the muscle) and intravenously (into a vein).
Heroin is such a potent drug that those who use it feel the high relatively quickly. Because of the increase of supply and ease in obtaining it, people from many backgrounds use heroin. Prescription painkillers have become the gateway drug to heroin, so anyone who has been prescribed narcotic medications can be susceptible to heroin use and heroin addiction.
The opioid epidemic has taken the United States by storm, and many people are dying from overdose every day, with a high number related to heroin abuse. Due to the addictive nature of prescription opiates, people who are unable to finance their addiction may resort to heroin use because it produces a more distinct high for less money and is readily available.