What is Heroin?
Heroin is a type of opioid that comes from morphine; which in turn is derived from the poppy plants. There are multiple ways to consume heroin. Its addiction leads to changes in behavior as well as brain functioning.
How is Heroin Used?
As mentioned, there are more than one ways to use heroin. You can inject, ingest, smoke, and snort it. In its pure form, the drug looks like white powder and has a bitter taste to it. Pure heroin is easier to smoke and snort which may appeal more to the new users when compared to injecting it.
Then there’s the ‘black tar’ version which is sticky. The black color is due to the presence of impurities that crude processing methods are unable to eliminate. Impure heroin dissolves easily and is, therefore, easier to inject into muscles, veins, and skin.
Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
The symptoms of addiction may not be so apparent in the beginning. But, with prolonged use, those symptoms can get worse and harder to conceal.
Below are the commonest signs and symptoms to watch out for –
- Slurred speech
- Drowsiness or agitation
- Constricted pupils
- Memory issues
- Reduced sense of pain
- Needle marks (casing by injecting)
- Runny or sore nose (caused by snorting)
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin addiction treatment consists of multiple steps. They are as follows:
Going cold turkey when a person is physically addicted to this drug can result in painful symptoms like vomiting, pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Many of the symptoms can be life-threatening. What’s more, intense cravings can always lead to relapse as the person would often resort to the drug to stop the pain.
Because of these reasons, detox should always be medically assisted. This often involves medication to ease the cravings and make withdrawal symptoms less painful. Because of this, the chances of relapse are almost nil.
Detoxification is generally the first step and most addiction-related treatments happen after the detox is successfully over. Further treatments would be much less effective if the detox itself was painful. Also, most detox requires hospitalization for thorough supervision.
Behavior therapy can be performed on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. Some of the commonest forms of behavioral treatment are –
- Group therapy
- Contingency management
- Individual therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Biofeedback technique
Here’s how this therapy can help overcome addiction –
- Helps to identify and eliminate triggers causing the drug usage
- Teaches coping skills to manage cravings
- Focuses on effective ways to eliminate and avoid relapses
- Address emotional discomforts and other important issues involved with addiction
Naltrexone is a known opioid antagonist. It works by blocking the brain’s opiate receptors. Therefore, opioids are not able to exhibit the same effects. It is commonly used for deterring heroin usage as the person no longer achieves a similar high once this medication is administered.
Here are the characteristics of using Naltrexone for treating opioid addiction –
- It’s important that a person has not had any opioids in the last 7 days before treatment with this medication can be begun. Failure to ensure that could result in acute and immediate withdrawal symptoms.
- It offers quicker detox than most other medicines.
- The medicine does not lead to any kind of physical dependence.
- It can be rather expensive.
- The medication itself doesn’t stop heroin usage. There’s a lot of personal commitment involved in achieving sobriety and remaining sober.
- Often Naltrexone only suits people who are committed to achieving sobriety.
- The medication works best when used in conjunction with other addiction treatment methods like counseling.
Methadone remains active for longer than heroin. It’s also a lot cheaper. The effects of this medication last about a day. The peak effects last for about 4-8 hours after the first dose. Often only one dose is needed.
It works by eliminating chances of risky behavior like injecting. It also gives a lot of stability for the person to slowly introduce more positive changes towards sobriety.
Treatment involving Methadone can last a long time (typically months and even years). The goal is to discourage illicit drug usage while enabling safe withdrawal for long-term success.
Methadone is often taken mixed with drinks like fruit juices.
Below are common effects of methadone –
Like heroin, Methadone is also an opioid. However, unlike heroin, the medicine doesn’t produce the high or the euphoria.
Methadone shares a lot of similarities with heroin in terms of effects such as –
- A sense of elevation and general well-being
- Pain relief
- Slowing of heart rate
- Lowering of blood pressure
- A decrease in body temperature
As a partial opioid agonist, Buprenorphine stimulates the receptors that drugs like methadone or heroin stimulate. It leads to a weaker response/high.
Common characteristics are –
- Buprenorphine is almost as effective as methadone when it comes to managing heroin withdrawal symptoms.
- There’s little chance of causing overdose with Suboxone (buprenorphine).
- When compared to methadone, Buprenorphine is almost just as effective when it comes to managing withdrawal.
- Even a tiny dose of this medicine is effective. Ideally, one dose a day or even less.
- Unlike methadone, Buprenorphine effects are much milder and more brief.
Buprenorphine is quite often used at drug rehab centers and is also available as a long-acting injectable that works for several weeks. The injection is administered weekly or monthly based on the patient’s needs.
iv) Combination of Naloxone and buprenorphine
Suboxone is a medicine that is a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine formulation. It’s not swallowed or chewed rather it’s taken sublingually. Meaning it dissolves when put under the tongue. The effects kick in within 4-8 minutes.
Advantages of Medication for Heroin Addiction
Medication carries a lot of advantages when it comes to treating heroin addiction, such as –
- Oral administration eliminates the need to use needles which further eliminates the risk of hepatitis and HIV.
- The effects of medication can last for days, unlike heroin which makes them more effective.
- Because of longer-lasting effects, the need to obtain and use heroin is no longer there which eliminates a lot of anxiety.
- As the dependence on drugs slowly stabilizes, the person can start focusing on their career, job, relationship, health, and nutrition.
- Using pharmacological help is a lot cheaper than obtaining heroin.
Getting help for Heroin Addiction
Treating heroin addiction may seem like a huge deal but it’s not. Therefore, if someone in your family needs help, know that it’s always available. You can talk to your doctor or start by looking for a well-rated rehab near you.