For over a century, heroin has been one of the most popular addictive drugs in the United States and elsewhere. Its harmful effects are widely known, yet each year thousands of people try it because of the short-term feelings of joy and relief that it produces—and in the long term, they suffer from its harmful effects on the vital organs. The body becomes chemically addicted to heroin to the point where the addict will suffer from withdrawal symptoms if denied the drug. He may also commit theft or other crimes in order to obtain the money to support his expensive habit. Many popular entertainers, such as James Taylor, fought addiction to heroin; his marriage to Carly Simon was ruined by his habit.
Sources of Heroin
Heroin is classified as an opiate, as are morphine and codeine. These opium-derived drugs produce drowsiness and loss of pain. Heroin is made from the seeds of the opium poppy. This plant was known to the people of ancient Sumer, and is now cultivated in many parts of the world. The drug itself was first synthesized in 1874 by the English physics and chemistry researcher, Charles Romley Alder Wright, at the Medical School of St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He had been seeking an alternative to morphine that would not cause addiction, but those effects soon became evident to doctors and scientists, as well as to addicts themselves.
How Heroin Acts On The Body
Drugs like heroin have the effects that they do because they disrupt the way the nervous system functions. Normally, enkephalin—an opiate produced naturally by the body—attaches itself to axons that produce Substance P, which is released to lessen pain. Heroin molecules are shaped identically with those of enkephalin, enabling them to take their place on the axons. The addiction, scientists believe, occurs when the axons have become completely filled with heroin. Scientists do not really know why this causes addiction or the withdrawal symptoms.
People who are suffering from heroin addiction experience chaos of other kinds in their lives. They may neglect their nutrition and other aspects of personal care. Since heroin is often administered by injection, there is also the risk of infection through a contaminated needle.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Drug habits are often treated by means of other drugs. One medication that is commonly used for treating heroin addiction is called methadone. Used since the 1960s, it satisfies the need for opiates on the axons and thus prevents the client from experiencing the feelings of euphoria that heroin normally causes. However, this drug can itself be highly addictive, and even if it does not have such an effect, the addict who withdraws from it—no matter how long he has been off of heroin—will find his withdrawal symptoms returning. In essence, methadone is not an answer for heroin addiction.
Other drugs used to treat heroin dependence include:
Scientists are also experimenting with other drugs that look promising, including:
In several countries, including Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden a method known as heroin-assisted treatment has been implemented. It is for those who cannot really derive benefit from any of the medications mentioned above, and features the use of a synthetic substitute for heroin. This method is also being experimented on in Belgium and Canada. In the United States though, heroin-assisted treatment has been widely criticized on the grounds that it is a form of enablement, a way of allowing people to continue to take the very drug to which they have become addicted. In the countries mentioned above, it has been fully integrated into the national health care systems, and it has also been revealed to be effective in reducing many of the expenses incurred by the criminal justice system, such as the costs of court proceedings and incarceration.
There are, of course, other methods of heroin addiction treatment that do not involve the use of drugs. However, since withdrawal from heroin is so difficult and so dangerous, treatment is effective only if it is started at an early stage. One method—detoxification, or “detox”—involves relieving the withdrawal symptoms so that the client can return to a normal, drug-free life. This is not really a form of treatment however; it can only work in tandem with medications or other remedies.