Heroin overdose is a serious condition that has swept across the country, claiming many lives each year. Since prescription opiate addiction became a national crisis, heroin overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Because of the chemical similarity between prescription opiates and heroin, many individuals resort to heroin because it’s cheaper and more readily available.
The increase in heroin use has resulted in thousands of deaths, destroying families, relationships and lives. The dangers of heroin use may not seem harmful, but all it takes is one strong hit to cause an overdose and possibly death. If you are addicted to heroin or know someone who is addicted, please seek help immediately.
Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Use
Heroin use causes a shift in the brain, making a person crave the drug and abandon former interests and other parts of their life. Heroin use and addiction can cause many behavioral changes in a person’s life, as a result. If you or a loved one is experiencing the following signs, you must seek help immediately. Those who use heroin may fear quitting the drug because of how painful withdrawal is. However, the cost of use is much higher than quitting. Heroin addiction can result in the loss of life, family or friends as the addiction takes over. Financially, many problems occur when people who are addicted to heroin lose control of their lives. They may:
- Steal money to pay for heroin
- Ask to borrow money from a family member or friend to pay for heroin
- Cash out retirement accounts or life savings to pay for heroin
- Be unable to pay rent or a mortgage, leading to evictions and foreclosures
- Lose a job because of stealing money from company funds to purchase heroin
- Go bankrupt
Socially, many who use heroin lose interest in their hobbies and passions. If someone spontaneously stops caring about a group or club they were a part of, they may be avoiding the group to get high instead. Alternatively, they could have been kicked out of the group after showing up high, or because of something they said while high. These self-destructive and sabotaging behaviors are signs to watch out for in those who use heroin. Specifically, a person using heroin may show these signs:
- Avoiding loved ones
- Forgetting important family responsibilities, like picking up a child from school
- Becoming domestically violent with children or romantic partners
- Lying to loved ones constantly to avoid being caught using heroin
While it may be difficult to confront your friend or family member about what you suspect, it’s important to bring up your concerns. Your loved one may lash out in anger, feel insulted, or accuse you of sabotaging their life, but these are expected responses. Loved ones need to look at the big picture and find help for themselves as soon as possible. Some other signs of heroin use include:
- Loss of appetite and not eating
- Losing a significant amount of weight
- Having unexpected mood changes
- Faking pain-related emergencies or hurting themselves intentionally so they can receive pain medication
- Having an excess of pill bottles and prescription pads in their home or in their vicinity
- Wearing long sleeves in the summer or warm climates to hide track marks
If you see any of these signs, it may indicate heroin use. You should seek help for a loved one who’s addicted to heroin as soon as you are aware of their addiction. Over time, the person will only use increasingly larger doses. All it takes is one large hit to cause an overdose and kill them. Please do not wait to find help if you see any of these signs.
Physical Symptoms of Heroin Use
There are many physical and psychological symptoms of using heroin. Physical symptoms of heroin use include:
- Dry mouth
- Skin and face flushing
- Clouded mental functioning
- Nodding back and forth between consciousness and semi-consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain suppression
- Constricted pupils
- Feeling light headed and euphoric
- Lack of coordination
- Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
As a person continues to use heroin, they may begin to experience a second level of more severe symptoms. More severe symptoms of heroin use include:
- Low blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- Slowed heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing or inability to breathe
- Slowed or shallow breathing
- Difficulty swallowing or inability to swallow
- Swollen face, tongue, hands, feet or throat
- Vomiting that cannot be stopped with medication
- Nausea and vomiting
Those who use heroin are also at an increased risk for certain health concerns, including HIV due to intravenous use of heroin and risks associated with needle sharing. Additionally, intravenous opiate use can also lead to an increased risk of hepatitis. Anyone who uses heroin also regularly risks overdosing, which is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Long-Term Health Effects of Heroin Use
Regardless of how heroin is used, those who use it can experience various medical complications. Long-term health effects of heroin can be damaging. Some of the many serious effects of heroin use include:
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Abscesses or boils
- Collapsed veins, especially for those who use heroin intravenously
- Stomach cramping and constipation
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Complications arising from lung damage, including different types of pneumonia
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women
- Damage to the mucosal tissues in the nose and perforations in the nasal septum, which mostly occurs in those who snort heroin
- Infectious disease, like HIV, Hepatitis B and C due to needle use
- Bacterial infections
- Arthritis and rheumatological issues
Psychologically, long-term effects include:
- Antisocial personality disorder
Depending on the administration of heroin, those who use it can have various health effects, including collapsed veins, bacterial infections, abscesses and other soft-tissue infections. Many additives in street heroin may include substances that can cause severe damage to various organs in the body including the lungs, kidneys, liver or brain. Sharing of needles and other equipment needed to administer heroin can lead to severe problems and infections like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
If you notice any of the aforementioned signs or symptoms, your loved one may have a heroin addiction. Addiction is one of the most serious long-term effects of heroin use. Left unchecked, heroin addiction can destroy a person’s health, relationships, financial security and career aspirations. Heroin addiction is a serious medical disease that only a drug addiction rehabilitation facility can treat.
Thousands of heroin overdose deaths are reported every year. A large dose of heroin can drastically slow down the heart rate and stop breathing to an extent that revival is impossible without medical equipment. Naloxone is one of the most commonly used drugs to revive those who overdose on heroin. An opioid receptor antagonist, naloxone successfully works to reverse an opioid overdose and eliminate all signs of intoxication. By rapidly binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, naloxone does an effective job in preventing heroin from activating these receptors and causing significant damage or death. However, if too much time lapses from overdose to the time of medical treatment, it may be too late. There has been a spike in the increase of overdose deaths — especially in the last few years — not just from heroin, but also from other prescription opiates. Although naloxone has shown to be an effective drug, other companies are trying to create more options to keep up with the growing demand for opioid overdose medication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a Naloxone hand-held auto-injector in 2014 called Evzio. Family members or caregivers can use this device to help an overdosing person until medical help arrives. Evzio can be injected into the muscle or under the skin when signs of overdose are seen. The FDA is working with manufacturers to create a nasal spray formulation, too.
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