If you haven’t heard, the United States is currently amidst its worst health care crisis in history. National reports show more people die of heroin overdoses than of gun deaths, including homicide and suicide. Opiate overdoses are responsible for more deaths in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did in the height of the epidemic in 1995. Heroin is thought to be possibly the worst drug out there because of the damage it does to users and the excruciating detox process that comes with it. Heroin overdose is now the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 50.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug in the opioid family processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance collected from the seed of the pod of the opium poppy which grows in southern Asia. These target opioid receptors in the brain which release dopamine, and causes a high level of pleasure. These were initially used to relieve pain, but in higher doses opiates induce an extreme feeling of euphoria, which makes it a popular drug of choice for abusers. These are debatably more often abused than used in proper medical doses.
Not only is heroin pleasurable, but detoxing is extremely painful. Heavy heroin users dread the come down which can scare any addict back into using. Detoxing from heroin can cause shakes, jitters, sweating nausea, vomiting and severe pain. At this point in the detox process, many have considered and attempted suicide. I knew a man who promised his parents he would never use again. After attempting detox at home alone, he left a suicide note stating that this was the only way he could keep his promise.
I could write an entire essay on the detox process of heroin, but nothing from a medical standpoint could really paint as clear a picture as my own family experience. A few years ago, I laid next to my 28-year-old brother, in a pool of sweat while he tossed and turned continuously begging me to get him any kind of prescription opiates. He would spend 20 minutes locked in the bathroom while I listened to him vomit and dry heave. Then, he would crawl back into bed and continue to groan in pain. It was beyond heartbreaking. Here was my hero, my best friend who had woken me up every Christmas morning to open presents, in excruciating pain begging me to help him. Reliving the pain would mean continuing the addiction that had so rapidly taken him from me at the age of 25.
Heroin Does not Discriminate
You may have an image in your head of what a heroin addict looks like, where someone who does heroin might be found. Who are they? Heroin addiction in white men between the ages of 18-45 has doubled in the past 10 years. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that approximately 586,000 people over the age of 12 experienced a heroin addiction in the U.S. These people are your friends, your family, your medical professionals, your maintenance men, your beauticians, and baristas. No one is safe from the hands of addiction and all it takes is a broken ankle to get your first prescription of Vicodin to kick start your opiate dependence. Opioid prescriptions are being handed out to Americans of all ages to treat anything from toothaches to back surgery. Opiate prescriptions sold in the U.S. have quadrupled since 1999. So, while the DEA is kicking in doors of opium dens, our legal opiate addiction is starting in our trusted medical facilities by our own doctors.
On my 22nd birthday, I spent the day in bed popping opiate-based pills I was prescribed after two unsuccessful surgeries. A few weeks after my third surgery I felt good enough to stop taking my pain relief prescription. When I started to feel sick I went back to my primary physician to explain my symptoms with genuine confusion. Without blinking an eye she said, “You are going through opiate withdrawal, it will pass” I can tell you first hand that the information is not being given to patients of the risk that comes with taking prescription opiates. I was also the first to inform my mother that the prescription pills she was taking for her back were the same ones that kick-started her son’s heroin addiction five years earlier. She had no idea that what she was taking had any addictive properties or were classified as opiates.
President Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971 with a public statement declaring drug abuse “public enemy number one.” Between 2015 and 2016 more people died from opiate overdoses than in the entire Vietnam War. The number of deaths is growing at an alarming rate. Detox centers are cycling heroin addicts like a revolving door. Because of the red tape involved with insurance companies, people are not getting the help they are desperate for. So many people are going to treatment before they are ready and so many more are not getting the treatment they are so desperate for because of complications with finances and insurance coverage.
Is There a Solution?
Medical detox and treatment centers have popped up all over the U.S. to assist addicts through the physically and emotionally painful process. AA and NA programs are available to anyone interested in emotional support with such addictions. The government is currently researching new drugs that may assist with detox pain as well as reducing cravings for addicts.
What can WE do?
First off, we can spread the word. Drug and alcohol addiction have become increasingly more acceptable in society. However, the information is still not readily available to people who are not experiencing addiction of close friends and family. Secondly, Narcan is a drug that has the capability to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. It is being suggested that people carry it in case of emergency situations where YOU may be in a position to save someone’s life simply by taking the time to obtain a prescription and keeping it on hand. I have kept it in my car for years in case of a situation where I had to use it on my brother. The chances of my having to use it on a complete stranger in public is are actually much higher. The idea that heroin is everywhere we turn may be alarming but it is the sad reality we live in today.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as services for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.