A full-blown addiction to heroin isn’t something that develops overnight. Heroin is rarely, if ever, the first drug someone uses. Normally, there’s a progression of drug use and abuse that occurs in a person’s life that leads them down the path to a heroin addiction. According to teens.drugabuse.gov, the most commonly abused drugs amongst teenagers are tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. After that, the most abused drugs are prescription painkillers. And this is where the slippery slope towards heroin use begins.
According to the website mentioned above, 2.8% of young people between the ages of 12-17 reported abusing prescription drugs in the past month. In a survey of high school seniors, 14.8% reported prescription drug abuse at some time in the past year. Many of the prescription drugs that are being abused are in the opioid family. Almost 50% of high school seniors have said that opioid pills would be easy to find. Herein lies one of the biggest parts of the problem. These are drugs that teenagers can find in their parents’, grandparents’, or friends’ medicine cabinets. They don’t have to go into shady parts of town to meet a drug dealer. They can grab them at home or buy them from a friend at school or down the street. After the fun or “newness” of taking the pills wears off, a common next step is to crush and snort the pills. This often gives the user a different and more intense high. Opioids are effective at impacting our perception of pain and pleasure. They attach to opioid receptors in our body and block pain and, when abused, give the user a euphoric rush. However, the negative side-affects of abuse show up relatively quickly and include drowsiness, constipation, and respiratory problems.
Heroin is a drug that is made from morphine, which means it is an opioid drug. There are two main reasons users “graduate” from opioid pills to heroin use: it provides a more intense high for a cheaper price. Heroin can be found in a white/brownish powder form or in a black, tar like substance. The powder is either snorted or mixed with water and injected through a needle (which commonly exposes the user to Hepatitis C and HIV). The “black tar heroin” is smoked.
Over time, a serious physical dependency on the drug is developed. If a person tries to quit “cold turkey” or is unable to find/afford their next hit, common symptoms usually include diarrhea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, and insomnia. This is part of what makes it so difficult for heroin addicts to quit and also makes them so rabid in securing their next hit. Another serious danger is the risk of overdose. Most drugs that are bought on the street are “cut” with other substances. The purity of the heroin someone buys on the street may vary from bag to bag. So, a person may think they’re injecting the same amount they always use, when it reality it is much more potent and their body can’t handle it.
For those that have never battled addiction, it’s difficult to understand the hold drugs in general, and heroin in particular, can have on someone. It’s easy to say or think, “Hey idiot, why don’t you just quit.” If the solution were that simple, we wouldn’t be facing this epidemic.
For many users, it’s so much more than just getting high. It’s about running from the pain, trauma, and abuse they’ve experienced for much of their lives. If you’re constantly tormented by your past and your emotions and you’ve never developed the coping skills to deal with the issues, a twelve hour reprieve from the pain sounds amazing, consequences be damned.