Heroin, or diamorphine, is commonly known as an illegal street drug, typically made and imported by Mexican gangs where it is sold and used in urban areas. But, while this is true, heroin is increasingly becoming a problem in other areas, such as the much more sedate suburbs surrounding big cities. While previously safe from dealers with hard drugs like heroin, the suburbs are increasingly targeted as the demand for opiates increases.
Heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance because it is detrimental to the user’s mental and physical health. The drug causes strong dependence (addiction), and a heavily increased risk of contracting blood-born diseases and pathogens through shared needle usage. As a result, heroin can be significantly dangerous and can impact the quality of the user’s life for the rest of their life.
The Rising Opioid Epidemic in the United States
Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, with pain pills like oxycodone and fentanyl among the worst offenders. These drugs are prescribed for short to medium term use for everything from recovering from surgery to simply dealing with recurring pain. Left on their own with dangerous and addictive medication, many people, especially those already under stress, become dependent and are unable to stop their habit once prescriptions run out. This, in turn, leads many to purchase opioids illegally on the street, with prices often ranging from $20 to over $80 per pill depending on what they are buying.
While these dependencies are often the result of poorly monitored prescription usage, prescription pain pill overdoses now result in roughly 60,000 deaths per year in the United States. And, while the attention of the police and the media is often on young people using, data shows that nearly 2.5 million Americans over the age of 50 abuse prescription medication in scenarios that can often be called addiction.
A Cheaper and Easier Alternative to Prescription Pills
Many people are increasingly aware of the addictive properties of pain pills, which has resulted in a crackdown on their prescription and production. For example, increasing awareness in 2016 led to dramatic steps such as the DEA cutting the total production of pain pills in the USA by over 25% for 2017. As a result, pain pills are now less available, more expensive on the street, and more difficult to come by. Persons who are currently addicted to pain pills are still addicted, still facing withdrawal symptoms if they stop, and still living with the stress or problems that likely caused them to become addicted in the first place. And, they are turning to new alternatives rather than quitting. With some pain pills costing more than $80 each, heroin is a cheap and similar solution that is sometimes used in medical environments as an opioid alternative.
As a drug, heroin is used for its euphoric and pain-relieving properties, making it an ideal replacement for prescription opioids like fentanyl and codeine. This problem is so bad that studies show that nearly 80% of heroin users report using prescription pills first. As a result, there are now more than 17 million people in the United States who use opioids such as heroin illegally.
An Attractive Customer Base for Dealers
While heroin is cheap and relatively easy to acquire in comparison with increasingly rare pain pills, suburban buyers are attractive to dealers as well. In big cities, dealers must contend with police who are aware of their heroin problem, other dealers, gangs, territories, and heavy users – all of which can make sales dangerous and difficult. In the suburbs, most of these problems go away, and police have recorded calm heroin sales happening in as a little as 15 seconds in broad daylight in shopping malls.
Combined with the rising suburban demand, the ease of making sales, and a low level of danger, selling in the suburbs is often extremely attractive to dealers. This brings more of them out into the suburbs, where they increase supply and therefore lower prices even further.
Who’s Using and How?
While most of us know heroin as a drug that is injected, it can also be mixed with other drugs and snorted or taken orally. While straight heroin only causes long-term effects of addiction and constipation, plus side effects from poor decision making while on the drug (shared needles, malnutrition, etc.), heroin cut with other drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil greatly increase the risk of side effects and overdose. In other cases, heroin is cut with sugar or strychnine, which can each cause severe problems when injected into the bloodstream.
Heroin is most commonly injected, which causes a quick rush of euphoria to the user. However, it is also often smoked, either in small glass pipes or through tinfoil and straws. Oral use is sometimes popular, but significantly less so because users report a much lower high.
The National Survey of Drug Use and Health shows that 1.9% of all teens between the age of 12 and 18 have used heroin at least once, but the majority of heroin users are over the age of 26.
Recognizing Heroin Addiction
If you suspect a loved one of using heroin, it is crucial that you take the steps to determine if they are and then work to get them help. Heroin on its own poses risks including overdose and blood-borne infections. However, the drug is frequently cut with much more dangerous drugs and substances, which can cause significant side effects including liver damage and failure, severe gastrointestinal damage, and much more. And, because heroin abusers make significantly impaired choices, they are much more likely to break the law, be involved in legal disputes, be involved in criminal behavior, or to be involved in reckless behavior resulting in instances such as car accidents. Recognizing when someone has a problem is the first step to getting them help.
While the exact symptoms of heroin use will vary depending on the user and their level of use, you can look for the following signs.
- Constricted pupils
- Sleepy appearance
- Slowed breathing
- Slurred speech
- Change in grooming and self-care routines
- Nausea or constipation
- Flushed or reddened skin
- Constant cold or flu symptoms
You can also choose to look for heroin use paraphernalia, which can be indicative of drug use.
- Spoons or bottlecaps with sticky residue or blackened bottoms
- Cotton balls
- Aluminum foil (especially burned)
- Smoking supplies
If you suspect that a loved one may be using heroin, it is important that you work to get them treatment. Unfortunately, simply stopping drug use is often not enough to stop an addiction. Because addicts are drawn to substance use for a variety of complex reasons including stress, anxiety, unhappiness, or an inability to fit into their homes, getting help means getting treatment alongside therapy such and cognitive behavioral therapy, which will help the dependent person to build up coping skills, so that they can live without the substance.
Once you recognize that someone is suffering from a heroin substance use disorder, you can take steps to get them help.
- Find a rehabilitation option for treatment. You should look for licensed therapists, a good reputation, and medically supported treatment options, including therapy.
- Work to get them to recognize that they have a problem. This may require an intervention
- Move the addict into treatment as soon as they agree to it.
While there are often fewer treatment options available in the suburbs, there are plenty of remote treatment options, some outpatient care facilities, and some inpatient care facilities around most areas. You should discuss the addict’s needs with a counselor to determine the best choice for them and their recovery.
Heroin is a very dangerous drug, which contributes to thousands of deaths, hospitalizations, and instances of permanent diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C each year.
If your loved one is using, it is crucial that you get them help, so they can get their life back on track. Please call us at Lighthouse Treatment Center today. At any time we are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Contact us today to discuss your situation in confidence.