Identifying a Heroin Needle

Spotting a heroin needle is something that can trigger immediate fear in anyone who suspects their loved one could be abusing drugs. The idea of the heroin needle has become synonymous with drug use. It’s often used as a representation of addiction and overdose deaths in the media and pop culture. Along with a heroin needle, what are other signs to look out for regarding possible drug issues? Is any other paraphernalia associated with heroin use?

Identifying a Heroin Needle
Heroin is an opioid drug derived from the poppy plant. Heroin causes a euphoric high as it binds to certain receptors throughout the central nervous system. This high is short-lived, and then a person will become drowsy or sedated for several hours following the use of the drug. Heroin is in the same class of drugs as prescription painkillers like Vicodin because both interact with the same receptors and cause similar effects. Painkillers used at appropriate and prescribed doses may not cause a high, but they can. In certain situations, prescription drugs are as addictive as heroin.

People who have used heroin describe the euphoric rush as powerful and almost immediately gripping. It’s not unusual for a person to become addicted after using heroin only once or twice. Heroin is easily one of the most addictive drugs available. When someone uses heroin, it triggers a flood of chemicals into their brain that make them feel good—much more so than they could naturally. That then creates an addictive reward response, where the brain wants to keep using the drugs to get that feeling. It’s difficult to break the cycle of addiction to heroin. Even after someone stops using it, it can take months or more for their brain to return to some sense of normalcy.

Injecting heroin can amplify all of the effects as compared to those that occur when smoking or snorting it. When someone injects heroin using a needle, the drug goes straight into their bloodstream and into the brain quickly. The effects are felt rapidly. The more quickly the effects of a drug are felt, the more addictive it is. Despite the risk of using a heroin needle and injecting a drug, it remains the preferred method for using the drug to get that fast, powerful high.  Even when people start out using heroin in other ways, such as by snorting it or smoking it, they almost always tend to move to injecting it.

The risk of overdosing on heroin is present no matter how the drug is taken, but it’s even greater when someone injects the drug using a heroin syringe. Since a heroin needle delivers the drug directly into the bloodstream, it’s very intense. If a user’s body can’t handle it, they can overdose and die.

Another risk of injecting heroin and using heroin needles is the fact that you don’t ever know what you’re really taking. Heroin is often cut with other substances. It used to be cut primarily with household items such as sugar as a way to increase the bulk and the profitability for dealers. Now it’s often cut with highly deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. These are cheap and easier to make than heroin, but they’re also incredibly potent. For example, fentanyl is 50 to 60 times more powerful than heroin, and carfentanil is hundreds of times more powerful. If you’re inadvertently injecting these into your bloodstream, you are at a very high risk of overdosing and dying.

It’s not just the direct risk of the drugs to consider. With heroin needles, users put themselves at risk for contracting certain diseases including HIV and hepatitis. Many cities and towns have efforts in place to have heroin addicts exchange their dirty needles for clean ones to prevent the spread of deadly diseases, but it still isn’t enough. Heroin needles can have other risks associated with their use as well. For example, abscesses and infections can form where a heroin syringe is inserted into the vein or muscle.

A heroin syringe is frequently the main red flag spotted when someone is using heroin. Along with a hypodermic heroin needle which is used to inject a liquified form of the drug into the vein or a muscle, you may also find cotton balls which are used to strain the heroin when it’s in liquid form. Spoons or bottle caps are used to cook heroin and turn it from a tar, powder or solid form into a liquid that can be injected, and users may need a tie-off such as a shoe lace. This is tied around the limb to change their blood flow, so their veins are easier to locate. If someone smokes heroin, paraphernalia can include aluminum foil, a lighter or candle, a straw, or a pipe.

There is no safe way to use heroin, but, injecting it with heroin needles or a heroin syringe is the most dangerous of all the other methods of administration. This is because of the intensity of the effects of the drug, the risk of blood borne disease transmission, and also because of infections and other accompanying effects.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a heroin use disorder, there are options available. Even if you’re not ready for help, we have a team at The Recovery Village who can provide you with more information.

Identifying a Heroin Needle
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