Heroin, a small word associated with sizable problems. Heroin is a key player in the opioid epidemic. In 2020 alone over 680,000 deaths by opioid overdose were recorded in the United States, and those numbers have continued to rise.(7) Heroin has indiscriminately taken hold of the lives of millions of people worldwide. Throw away the misconceptions you hold about the type of person who struggles with heroin addiction, though there are some circumstances that correlate with addiction being more likely to occur, it really can happen to anyone.
Friends and loved ones of a person struggling with heroin addiction find themselves feeling a whirlwind of emotions, shock, disbelief, fear, guilt, grief, frustration, and anger. They cannot understand why the smart, talented, caring, amazing person they know and love, who had everything going for them, would struggle with addiction to heroin. Perhaps they have tried time and time again to help their friend or loved one seek help for heroin addiction but they are not yet willing to get help or have tried treatment and have relapsed.
Addiction to heroin is notoriously hard to treat but recovery can and does happen every day. If you know or suspect someone you care about is using heroin it is helpful to know how to identify it in order to distinguish it from other drugs, and signs of heroin use to look for. Early intervention can stop the cycle of heroin addiction before it begins.
Identifying Heroin From Other Types of Opioids
Heroin is a drug that has been both villainized and glamorized throughout its history. People who do not have experience with the drug often do not have knowledge about it beyond what they learned in some “just say no” campaign they sat through in school, or the way stories about heroin addiction have been portrayed in movies, and the news.
When people hear the word heroin, their thoughts are flooded with images of stereotypes that have been ingrained into their mind, which may range from a disheveled, seedy and mentally unstable person living on the streets of slums; to an eccentric creative type, or wild, hard partying rock star.
It is stereotypes like these that make it that much more unbelievable when someone finds out a person they care about is using heroin. They may find them wondering what heroin is, and what about it is so alluring that people try it even though it carries so many risks?
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How Heroin Can Be Mistaken for Other Substances
Heroin is an illegal street drug used recreationally. Morphine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Dilaudid, and Percocet are opioids prescribed for use to relieve pain or to help quell bad coughs.
Heroin is an illegal opioid described as tasteless or bitter, it is acidic and may or may not have a slight vinegar like smell to it. Heroin is sold in solid or powder forms. Prescription opioids and opiates can be found in the forms of pills, vials, lollipops, lozenges, and patches.
Even prescribed opioids can be misused and sold illegally. Taking more of the medication prescribed, or crushing prescription opioid pills to then snort in order to achieve a rapid high are some ways that they are misused. People who struggle with addiction to legal opioids, whether they have been prescribed to them or they are buying them illegally, sometimes progress to heroin use for the stronger high or because it is cheaper.
In powder form heroin can be impossible to distinguish from other powdered drugs like cocaine or speed. This poses a serious problem that can be fatal. If you think of the scene in the movie Pulp Fiction when the character Mia Wallace mistakes a bag of the character Vincent Vega’s white heroin for cocaine she has an overdose. This is because the two drugs are opposites in their action on the central nervous system, with heroin being a depressant and cocaine a stimulant. No person, no matter how experienced they are with drugs, should ever ingest a substance without knowing what it is.
Fentanyl has similar effects to heroin but it is much more potent and therefore more dangerous. Fentanyl is combined with heroin because it costs less to manufacture and is so powerful that less heroin needs to be added in order to create a highly potent intoxicant. This mixture is more likely to be fatal. Fentanyl test strips, which can be found in drug stores or bought online, are the only sure fire way to test if Fentanyl is present in substance.(2)
Why, When, and How Is Heroin Made?
Opium- All opioids are derived from opium. The use of opium to treat various ailments dates back centuries as does its recreational use. Opium is found in varying degrees in the seed pods of poppy plants grown in Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia..(3) It is sometimes referred to as milk of the poppy. Early in the United States history opium elixirs could be found at every street corner shop. Opium dens, where opium was smoked recreationally, spread across the country in the late 1800’s.
Morphine- In the 1800’s it was discovered that when opium undergoes certain chemical processes it can be synthesized to make morphine, a drug ten times stronger than opium. When people prescribed morphine started to struggle with addiction to it in mass numbers, especially once the syringe was invented and people started to inject it, it became apparent that some type of intervention needed to take place.
Heroin- Heroin was supposed to be the hero that solved the rampant misuse of morphine that was occurring. Heroin was synthesized from morphine by the Bayer Company in the late 1895. It was practically passed out like candy by the St. James Society, who mailed out samples of it to people struggling with addiction to morphine. It worked but did not produce the outcome that was hoped for. The much more powerful high that heroin produces became a bigger adversary than they could have ever imagined.
The production and sale of heroin were made illegal in the United States in 1924.
Illegalization didn’t magically make heroin disappear or make people struggling with addiction to it suddenly not desire it anymore. Where there is a demand there is money to be made. The production and sale of heroin has continued illegally. (5)
An unrefined form of heroin that looks like a sticky lava rock. It contains the least amount of heroin and is the least expensive with a single dose being as cheap as a pack of cigarettes. Black tar heroin can be smoked or melted down and injected.
The purest type of heroin, refined into a white powder, that is snorted or melted down and injected. It can take on a tinge of color from the chemicals used to process it, turning it slightly tan or pink. The purer the heroin is, the more expensive it is. In order for dealers to make a profit they cut it, or mix it with cheaper substances such as sugar, baking soda, powdered milk, or even laundry detergent. Cutting heroin with fentanyl has been the cause of the pervasive rise in heroin overdoses.
The heroin middle man, not as pure as white heroin but more pure than black tar heroin. It is a gritty brown powder that is smoked. The way brown heroin is processed makes it hard to dissolve in order to be injected and it isn’t pure enough to be snorted.
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Different Packaging of Heroin
Heroin is usually packaged in tin foil, small plastic ziplock bags, balloons, and emptied out gel pill capsules.
In order to use heroin, heroin users need paraphernalia which will vary depending on the method they are using.
- Rolled up paper bills
All of the above are examples of heroin paraphernalia a heroin user may have.The sky's the limit when it comes to inventive ways people who use, or deal heroin, have come up with to conceal the drug and drug paraphernalia. A book with the pages cut out, an emptied out pack of gum replaced with foils full of heroin are a couple of examples of this.
Heroin dealers will put themselves at risk of overdose by swallowing balloons filled with heroin, or gel capsules that have been emptied out and filled with heroin, to transport the drug.
Slang Terms of Heroin And Other Names
Heroin is known by many slang names on the street.
- China White
However, a person who is using heroin or a person who is dealing heroin may not use these slang names for heroin openly. These slang terms have become more recognizable, even among those who do not have any experience with heroin. To avoid suspicion, someone who is using heroin may call it some innocuous term. For example they may say things like they are going to get coffee, cookies, or candy. If you notice a pattern of terms being used in excess or out of context by someone you suspect may be using heroin, it is wise to pay attention.
Why Identification of Heroin Matters
The euphoric effect heroin induces kicks in instantaneously; it lights up the brain like the firework finale in the night sky on the Fourth of July. In contrast, heroin withdrawal feels quite awful. Physically it can feel like a terrible flu and cause an emotional flatness after the come down from the intense high. The pendulum from the desirable high and undesirable low is a contributing factor as to why people who use heroin continue to use it. A cycle begins where the person using heroin needs more of the drug as tolerance to it builds over time. It is important to break this cycle as early on as possible for the best chance at recovery from heroin use, and to reduce the risk of heroin overdose.
Heroin suppresses the central nervous system. A person high on heroin will appear sleepy and may even nod off right in the middle of conversations or activities. Nodding off can become especially dangerous because the person can stop breathing, become unconscious, and may even die if intervention to stop an overdose isn’t acted upon swiftly. Some visible signs to look for to identify a person who is using heroin are.
- Pin drop pupils
- Track Marks
- Heavy eyelids
- Bloody noses
- Nodding off
When you know for certain someone is high on heroin and may be overdosing, you may be able to save their life with the medication naloxone. Naloxone reverses the effects of heroin. It is available without a prescription at drug stores and sometimes local health or public safety organizations will give it away for free. After administering Naloxone, get medical attention for the person who has overdosed on heroin immediately.
Heroin can cause lasting side effects and create lasting negative impacts on the lives of those struggling with addiction to it.
- People who inject heroin put themselves at risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis, and other bloodborne illnesses. They may also develop abscesses, and collapsed lungs.
- People who smoke heroin can develop lung damage and are at higher risk for contracting respiratory infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
- Heroin use can cause organ damage, especially to the heart, liver ,lungs, and gastrointestinal tract.
- Heroin use may cause new onset or worsened mental health disorders.
- A person struggling with addiction to heroin may struggle with homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.
- Some people struggling with addiction to heroin turn to illegal means such as theft or prostitution to support the use of it. These activities put them at greater risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, getting into trouble with the law, and other dangers.
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Get Treatment For Heroin Addiction
People who struggle with addiction to heroin often try to quit multiple times on their own and are unable to maintain recovery without support. At Pinnacle Peak Recovery Center located in Scottsdale, Arizona, we offer an evidence based, multimodality treatment program in a safe, nurturing, healing environment.
Our caring staff at Pinnacle Peak Recovery understand that recovery from addiction to heroin is not a destination, it's a lifelong journey. Each person's recovery treatment from heroin addiction needs to be as individual as they are. Pinnacle Peak Recovery takes a holistic, individualized approach. The “whole” of the person struggling with heroin addiction needs to be nurtured and guided in order for them to find the courage and strength they need to recover.
The recovery process begins with a pre-screen, followed by residency at the Pinnacle Recovery Center, this is a vital part of the process because it takes the person struggling with heroin addiction away from any external triggers or distractions. This allows them to focus inward, and helps them to discover the root of the factors that contributed to them feeling like they needed to escape, or self medicate with heroin.
Home, while in the acute stage of recovery, is a sprawling residence in a quiet suburban area, nestled within the revitalizing, serene landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Treatment will include: individual therapy, group therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), art therapy, yoga, Tai Chi, mindful meditation, nature hikes, and nutritious meal plans that will nourish your body, mind, and spirit.
The unpleasant symptoms that heroin withdrawal causes leave the person struggling with addiction to heroin especially vulnerable to using heroin to make the withdrawal symptoms stop. Medication support to ease the discomfort of heroin detox, and bind to or block opioid receptors are used to ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings.
Once heroin is out of the system the work that is needed to find lasting recovery can begin. It will be a multi stage process that includes not only residency but aftercare in a step down process that progress from most intense to least intense intervention; Intensive Partial Hospitalization Program (IPHP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), Evening Intensive Outpatient Program (EIOP), and and Alumni Program that offers long term continued care and support.
The struggle with addiction to heroin doesn’t just affect the life of the person using it, it also impacts the lives of the people who care about them. The Pinnacle Peak Recovery Program encourages the involvement of loved ones, so that they too feel supported, with the skills gained in the recovery process relationships that have become strained can be mended.
Recovery from the struggle with addiction to heroin may feel overwhelming, or even impossible, but you can succeed and Pinnacle Peak Recovery is here to offer you support, 866-377-4413.