Author: Shernide Delva
By now, most of us know what heroin is, but are there things we do not know about the drug? A recent article listed several facts about heroin, and some of them were quite shocking. The United States is currently in the midst of a heroin epidemic. Therefore, it is critical that both medical professionals and the public fully understand this drug.
All About Heroin: A Basic Overview
In case you were unaware, heroin derives from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted from the seedpods of several types of poppy plants. The chemical name for heroin is diacetylmorphine. Heroin is the fastest acting opiate drug. Whether heroin is injected, smoked or snorted, the drug enters the body rapidly and causes a range of physically and psychological effects.
The U.S. has seen heroin cycle in and out of popularity. In the 70s, heroin was becoming a huge problem in urban communities specifically in areas around New York City. It was estimated that close to 200,000 people in the city were using heroin. A popular park in New York City, known as Hyde Park, earned the infamous name “Needle Park” because the amount of syringes that were found all throughout the park. Fortunately, the heroin epidemic of that era died down around the time Rudolph Giuliani was elected. Many new yorkers credit Giuliani for the measures he took to clean up the city.
The Heroin Epidemic Today
These days, however, heroin is not hitting just urban communities; the epidemic has spread throughout the countries in places people would have never suspected. Areas in the suburbs are seeing a spike in heroin use. The prescription opioid epidemic is the main reason for this resurgence. Many who were prescribed prescription opioids by their doctors became dependent on the drug and soon moved on to heroin as a cheaper, quicker alternative.
Heroin is much cheaper than prescription drugs, and it is easier to acquire. As laws are placed to prevent further prescription drug abuse, heroin use becomes a more popular alternative. Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle.
With new users come new problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. Heroin claimed the lives of more than 8,300 Americans in 2013.
Five Compelling Truths About Heroin
Now, that you know some basic information about the current heroin epidemic, here are five interesting facts about this dangerously addictive drug. Perhaps reading them will further solidify the reasons to avoid trying heroin in the first place.
What Being “On The Nod” Really Means.
When most people envision the high of heroin, they picture a person “nodding off” from the drug. Nodding off, or “on the nod” essentially describes a person who is in a state where they alternate between drowsiness and wakefulness for several hours. Imagine a student in a boring lecture trying desperately to stay awake. Their head will drop down as they get sleepier but immediately jerk upward in an attempt to stay awake.
The nodding from heroin use happens because heroin is a sedative. A person will go from feeling awake but sleepy and eventually fall into a deep sleep that he or she cannot be shaken from. While this may be desirable for a heroin user, it is the first step on the road to excess sedation. The nod can be especially dangerous if the user loses consciousness. In some cases, a person can slip into a comatose state and then sink into an overdose. Breathing becomes severely slow and sometimes stops.
Was Heroin Ever Sold Over-The-Counter?
Heroin was created from morphine in 1874. However, Heroin was introduced for medical use in 1890 by The Bayer Company of Germany. Three years before that, a chemist wanted to create a safer alternative to morphine— one that was less addictive and had fewer effects. In his attempt to create the drug, he created heroin, which he believed to be a more dilute form of morphine. The reason the drug was called “heroin” was because he believed the drug had heroic qualities.
Starting in the early 1900s, Heroin was found in products like cough syrups, and remedies for infant colic. Heroin was marketed and sold over the counter in the United States and several other countries. Doctors thought the drug was great for insomnia.
However, a few years later, heroin was discovered to be two to three times more potent than morphine, and more rapidly absorbed by the brain. Doctors also realized that heroin was actually more addictive than morphine! Needless the say, eventually the drug was taken off the shelves.
The “Heroin Chic” 90s Fashion Movement.
In the 90s, being waif thin was all the rage in the high fashion community. Models like Kate Moss, were so emaciated, that they looked like they were strung out on drugs. To add to the look, the models often posed with blank stares, dark eye circles, and pale skin.
During the same period, a new, less expensive version of heroin was entering the United States from Columbia. The new version outcompeted heroin coming from Asia and Southeast Asia. In fact, the Columbian heroin was so cheap and pure that it increased the number of heroin user and the depth of their drug use.
In 1997, not long after a fashion photographer died of a heroin overdose, the then-president Bill Clinton condemned the “heroin chic” images and advertisements. Clinton suggested that the images glamorized addiction to sell clothes.
Soon, the “heroin chic” look fell out of favor, and eventually much healthier looking models replaced the super skinny waif-like look.
The Different Colors of Heroin.
Heroin comes in three different colors. It is either a white powder, a brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. You might have known this already, but do you know what country of origin is associated with the different types of heroin?
–White Powder Heroin: Heroin which is more refined and pure used to arrive from Southeast Asia. White powder heroin is becoming rarer in the United States. Much of the powdered heroin sold in the U.S. has fillers or contaminants added such as sugars, starches, and powdered milk.
— “Black Tar” Heroin: The sticky black heroin or “black tar” heroin comes to the U.S. from Mexico which is the only country that produces it. The drug resembles a black tootsie role. When the drug is cold, it is a hard substance, however, once the user warms up the drug, it appears sticky, resembling roofing tar.
Formed through an industrial process, black-tar heroin is known for being less pure and lower grade. It also is more similar to opium in its chemical makeup compared to other forms of heroin, and it has other opioid drugs, such as morphine and codeine, in it.
–Brown heroin: Lastly, we have heroin from Columbia which tends to be brown and chalky. Heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan are also brown, but heroin from these countries are more commonly found in Europe.
Famous Phases from Heroin Withdrawals Symptoms.
Although you may associate phrases like “kicking the habit,” or “going cold turkey” with all drug use; the two phases actually originated from heroin withdrawal symptoms.Heroin is one of the most difficult drugs to withdraw from. Heroin withdrawal is a long-term process that involved commitment, professional treatment, and the right support system.
Over the years, our language has been influenced by what happens when people stops using heroin. The expression “kicking the habit,” for example, is thought to have originated from the kicking leg movements seen in people going through heroin withdrawals. When a person withdraws from heroin, their muscles become lethargic and heavy. They start to feel their legs become twitchy and uncontrollable, which leads to the kicking motion, hence the phrase “kicking the habit.”
Another withdrawal symptom of heroin is cold flashes and goosebumps, which some believe originated the phrase “going cold turkey.” When a person withdraws from heroin, their skin becomes more active. This results in goosebumps and the feeling of going “cold turkey.” Phrases like these are old terms and likely originate 50 to 70 years ago.
Was there anything you learned about heroin that surprised you? Now that you understand how addictive heroin can be, you should know that the best way to overcome this addiction is through receiving professional treatment. Do not try to overcome this disease on your own. You need a plan for recovery. Call today.