Misconceptions and half-truths can do more harm than good when it comes to a potentially deadly but alluring drug like heroin.
Scientific research has been able to remove some of the mystery surrounding use patterns and the effects of this drug, despite the fact that new drug blends and formulations continue to cloud heroin truths.
Heroin is described as an opioid that is derived from morphine which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Heroin was first synthetized by English chemistry and physics researcher C. R. Alder Wright in 1874. In his search for a non-addictive alternative to morphine, Wright began combining morphine with various acidic substances. Eventually, the substance known as heroin today emerged from cooking anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride for several hours.
Some truths about heroin include:
- a) In the United States, heroin is a controlled substance with a Schedules I and IV designation.
- b) It is illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell heroin without a license.
- c) Heroin is an extremely potent, highly addictive substance regardless of how it is administered.
- d) Heroin use can produce risky behavior such as engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners which can lead to the contraction of bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However, the risk factors for contracting these diseases are significantly diminished when the drug is snorted or smoked rather than ingested intravenously. Studies also show, when administered intravenously, heroin is two to four times more potent.
- e) As a result of widespread prescription drug addiction, the use demographic for heroin has expanded to include everyone from teenagers to young adults and seniors. In fact, anyone who has developed an addiction to narcotic prescription drugs are also potential candidates for heroin abuse and addiction.
- f) Although heroin is a highly addictive substance, dependence and addiction does not typically occur after a single use but as a result of frequent and regular consumption. As such, it typically takes months or longer for a heroin addiction to be fully established.
- g) Heroin products marketed and sold by illicit drug dealers may be tainted with other highly potent substances such as fentanyl.
- h) Chronic heroin use subjects its users to a wide array of risks including the potential for a fatal drug overdose.
- i) Multiple risk factors for heroin abusers has prompt the development of an opioid reversal agent and the release of Opioid Overdose Toolkits that contain information on how to recognize and appropriately respond to a heroin overdose.
One truth supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is that early treatment can stop the progression and significantly reduce the risk of heroin abuse, dependence and addiction. However, no single treatment is appropriate for everyone. NIDA scientist say treatment varies depending on the type of drug, duration of the addiction and the mental and physical health of the patient. Identifying the right treatment environment and meeting the unique care needs of the individual is critical to achieving full recovery and sustainable sobriety.