Thank you to the Tanana Chiefs Conference for allowing us to share their information about heroin.
Heroin: What You Need to Know
In recent years, deaths, overdoses and medical costs related to heroin use has increased in Alaska. According to a recent report from the state Division of Public Health, the number of hospitalizations for heroin-related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, 23 people in Alaska died from heroin overdose, four times the number of overdose deaths in 2008.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug. Heroin is produced from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that comes from the seedpod of poppy plants. Heroin is abused by injecting, snorting or smoking it, and all three can cause the same level of addiction, as well as serious health problems.
Additives are oftentimes used to dilute it, such as sugar, caffeine or other substances. The various additives do not fully dissolve, and when they are injected into the body, can clog the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, kidneys or brain. This can lead to infection or destruction of vital organs.
The user buying heroin on the street never knows the actual strength of the drug in that particular packet. Thus, users are constantly at risk of an overdose.
How can I identify it?
In its purest form, heroin is a fine white powder. But more often, it is found to be rose gray, brown or black in color. The coloring comes from additives which have been used to dilute it.
Is it Addictive?
YES. Heroin enters the brain very quickly, making it particularly addictive. Even a single dose of heroin can start a person on the road to addiction. It is estimated that almost one-fourth of the people who try heroin become addicted. And over time, heroin users develop a tolerance, meaning that more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same results.
How can I tell if someone is abusing heroin?
Heroin users build tolerance to heroin, leading to increases in the frequency and quantity of heroin consumption. With growing tolerance, more definitive physical symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction emerge, including weight loss, runny nose, needle track marks visible on arms, infections or abscesses at injection site, and cuts, bruises or scabs from picking.
What are the effects on one’s health?
Heroin abuse and dependence produce serious medical side effects which may directly or indirectly result in death:
• Heart problems, including infection of heart lining and valves
• Infectious diseases spread by shared needles (HIV and hepatitis B and C)
• Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary diseases
• Blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins or impurities
• Bacterial infections
• Liver disease
• Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
• Heroin abuse and addiction are extremely serious medical diseases. They require care from chemical dependency specialists experienced in opiate detox and withdrawal.
SOURCES: Foundation for a Drug-Free World; AboveTheInfluence.com; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Department of Health and Social Services
Thank you to the Tanana Chiefs Conference for providing the information above.
If you or someone you know needs help immediately because of a potential overdose, call 911.
To seek treatment for heroin or prescription opioid abuse or addiction, contact a medical provider or use the “Locate treatment” website to find options near you.
To learn about naloxone, a drug to block or reverse the effects of overdose go to the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services Division of Public Health’s Reverse web page.