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Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an illegal opioid that is considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It has a strong addiction potential and causes severe, detrimental side effects. Opiates are naturally derived from the opium poppy. Many opioids are prescription painkillers. However, heroin is an illegal opioid found with no medical benefits. Heroin is known as one of the most addictive substances because of how it works in the brain. Heroin, like all other opioids, binds to natural opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a euphoric feeling throughout the body and a decrease or elimination of physical pain. The body produces natural opioids known as endorphins. Heroin binds to the same receptors, causing these natural endorphins not to work as effectively. In other words, heroin hijacks the brain and the body.

The drug is either smoked, injected intravenously (into a vein), or injected subcutaneously (through the skin). As with any injectable drug, heroin users have an increased rate of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Heroin is sold on the street. Common alternative terms include chasing the dragon, H, chine white, junk, and smack.

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Intoxication

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils (meiosis)
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression (shallow and short breathing)
  • Track marks on skin or fresh puncture wounds
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent nose bleeds (if heroin is snorted)

Behavioral symptoms of cocaine addiction

  • Stealing money to pay for heroin
  • Cashing out retirement accounts or life savings to pay for heroin
  • Being 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
  • Going bankrupt
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Forgetting important family responsibilities
  • Becoming domestically violent with children or romantic partners
  • Lying to loved ones constantly
  • Loss of appetite
  • Losing a significant amount of weight
  • 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

Treatment for Heroin Addiction, how we can help

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) incorporates medications and therapy to help the brain and body recover from dependence on heroin. The client is placed under direct medical supervision and is monitored for safety and comfort.

Medications approved to treat opioid prescription abuse include opioid receptor blockers such as naltrexone, opioid receptor activators such as methadone, and partial opioid agonists, which both block and activate the opioid receptors such as buprenorphine.

  • Naltrexone: Eliminates the euphoric and sedative effects of heroin by blocking opioid receptors. It curbs heroin cravings and prevents the feeling of getting high if an individual uses heroin while on this medication. It also is used to treat alcohol addiction.
    Naltrexone is a long-term medication and can only be given to someone who has abstained from heroin for at least 7-10 days. It comes in a pill or injectable form. Naltrexone is not to be confused with naloxone, which is used to prevent or reverse heroin overdose.
  • Methadone: A low strength, long-acting opioid that helps prevent heroin withdrawal effects. Its use is controversial in some areas because, since it is also an opioid, it can also be addictive to some individuals. It is possible for former heroin addicts to become addicted to methadone. Therefore, a doctor must carefully determine if using methadone to ease withdrawal is appropriate for the client.
    In a methadone-based treatment center, healthcare professionals will administer small doses of methadone to heroin-addicted clients. This minimizes heroin withdrawal effects, and over time, the dose of methadone will decrease. Eventually, the individual will be substance-free.
  • Suboxone: Contains both naloxone and buprenorphine. Since 2013, it has sold more units than Viagra and Adderall, making it an incredibly popular prescription. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it somewhat increases the actions of opioids, including heroin. Because of this, it minimizes the withdrawals associated with heroin.
  • Naloxone is an opioid blocker, so if the user is still taking heroin, they will experience withdrawals within minutes. Since naloxone carries too many risks for it to be administered by itself, it is combined with buprenorphine, which eases withdrawal symptoms. The result of the combination is Suboxone.

Opioids such as Suboxone and methadone can reduce the debilitating effects of heroin withdrawal and the strong cravings for more opioids. Although there is also some potential to become addicted to Suboxone, the benefits of safely detoxing from heroin generally far outweigh the risk of addiction.

AKUA Mind & Body Treatment Program

AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service treatment program that offers a wide range of “east meets west” treatment modalities for many different populations struggling with heroin addiction and substance use and mental health disorders. We offer both intensive inpatient programs as well as outpatient treatment. AKUA Mind & Body works diligently with each client and their family to ensure that their depressive disorder treatment plan is specifically tailored to their needs, and not just their disorder. 

Heroin Overdose

Overdosing on heroin can be extremely life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. The extent of the overdose depends on the amount and purity of heroin used, other consumed substances, and the individual’s age and weight.

Heroin overdose can be completely unexpected as individuals can overdose during their first time or never overdose at all as a lifelong user; hence why this is such a dangerous illegal substance.

The following are signs and symptoms of heroin overdose:

  • Bluish lips, nails or extremities
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Delirium or confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure

Treating Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose can be deadly but there is an antidote that can be administered via intranasal or injection. Naloxone is an opioid receptor blocker and is used to prevent heroin and all opioids overdose. Naloxone prevents heroin from binding to its receptors in the brain, therefore causing immediate physical withdrawals.

An individual can be in and out of consciousness and can immediately experience painful withdrawal within seconds after naloxone is administered. Naloxone can be prescribed to patients and their families who are using prescription opioids, who are at risk of withdrawal or who have an active history of heroin use.

Naloxone is also widely administered by EMS workers and in hospitals. Many governments and privately funded agencies are working diligently to educate the public on the proper use of naloxone and the importance it can have on saving lives from a heroin overdose

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