09 Nov Understanding Heroin Addiction

Previously, we wrote about understanding cocaine addiction. Part two of this seven part series explores heroin, and why people begin using that drug. Heroin is a depressant made from the resin of the opium plant poppy. It is an opioid much like codeine, morphine, oxycodone and methadone. It is a white or brown powder, or sometimes a dark brown, sticky substance known as tar. In the 1800’s opium was widely used, and massively addictive. Manufacturers substituted their drug of choice with morphine (supposedly less addictive), but it quickly became a bigger problem than opium. People searched for a solution to the morphine problem and came up with heroin. The same addiction problem ensued.
Heroin is often impure, mixed with other substances such as sugar or caffeine, but is also mixed with dangerous poisons that can be more dangerous than heroin. It is often injected, leading to other problems such as HIV and AIDS from sharing needles. Heroin can also be smoked or sniffed. Some street names are: Smack, Hell Dust, Horse, Nose Drops, and Junk.

Why Do People Use Heroin?
Heroin and other opiates react with the brain’s natural pleasure system of endorphins and dopamine. They suppress pain and magnify pleasure. However, most people who begin using heroin are ignorant of the effects it can cause. About ⅓ of heroin users use it as a replacement for their prescription medication. Heroin is less expensive than prescription pain medication and many people start using it after they become addicted to OxyContin or Percocet. A recent study in Chicago entitled “Understanding Suburban Heroin Use” found that 75% of heroin users had a mental health condition, and turned to heroin to self-medicate. Two-thirds of heroin users also enjoy the thrilling sensations that come from obtaining the drugs, such as driving to the drug deal without getting caught. Heroin also has started to become more fashionable and even the “heroin addict look” was promoted in many magazines in the past decade.

Heroin Statistics
Many people think that heroin use is a thing of the past, but in fact, it is on the rise. 13.5 Million people in the world use opioids, and 9.2 million of those people use heroin. Heroin use has increased by 63% in the past ten years. 4.2 million Americans have used heroin at least once, and there are currently about 700,000 users of heroin in the United States. Heroin users are not limited to a specific income level or sex, and there are users from all walks of life. Opiates are involved in nearly ⅘ of all drug-related deaths, and account for 18% of admissions to rehabilitation centers.

Tune in next week as we discuss Ecstasy addiction.

Mike Keenan is a Licensed Substance Use Disorder Counselor (LSUDC) and is continuing his education by pursuing a degree in Social Work at the University of Utah. Mike began his career in 2008 working in youth residential treatment. Soon after, he identified his passion for working with the adult population suffering from addiction and chemical dependency and transitioned into adult residential, in-patient, and out-patient treatment. Mike has excelled in a variety of supervisory and director level positions, and is currently succeeding as the Director of Client Relations at Therápia. In addition, Mike has been practicing as a Certified Equine Specialist, using the EAGALA Model, since 2008. Using the EAGALA model, he works in a team to facilitate Equine Psychotherapy and Equine Life-skills sessions. Mike grew up in St. George Utah and has always taken advantage of the wide array of outdoor and recreational activities Southern Utah provides. He has capitalized on his love for and expertise in the stunning surrounding environment to facilitate experiential therapy and metaphorical learning.

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