The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released a report that found that, in the past 11 years, the use of heroin in the United States has risen dramatically.
In 2002, about 214,000 over the age of 12 were addicted to heroin; in 2013, that number had risen to 517,000. Additionally, more than 681,000 Americans used heroin in 2013 – of this number, about 31,000 were teenagers. Every day in the US, an average of about 460 people try heroin for the first time, says SAMHSA.
Pamela S. Hyde is a SAMHSA Administrator. In a news release, she said: “Heroin use has reached alarming levels throughout our nation and we must work together to overcome this serious public health threat.”
Comparatively, about 13 percent of people over the age of 12 use marijuana (about 33 million Americans), and an estimated 4 percent of people misuse prescription painkillers (about 11 million Americans). Though the numbers of people who are abusing heroin are small compared to the number of people experimenting and/or abusing marijuana or prescription medications, heroin abuse is still a growing trend across the country.
Prescription Drug Abuse Connection
In the past five years, there has been a big push among legislators and the medical community to initiate sweeping changes that limited access to illegal prescription painkillers and made it harder for users to fraudulently fill multiple scripts at different pharmacies or through different doctors. However, though these initiatives have been successful in limiting the abuse of prescription painkillers, they did not necessarily assist opiate addicts in connecting with the treatment they needed to stop using all drugs of abuse. As a result, some may have ultimately turned to heroin in order to maintain their addiction and avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The SAMHSA report said: “Although research indicates that people who previously misused prescription pain relievers were more likely to initiate heroin use than people who had not misused prescription pain relievers, most people who misuse prescription pain relievers do not progress to heroin use.”
This indicates that the increase in heroin use and abuse may be connected to painkiller abuse, but that many are still abusing prescription painkillers despite the changes designed to mitigate misuse of prescription drugs. Additionally, many are coming to heroin abuse through other means – often, abusing the drug recreationally and/or in combination with other substances in a social setting.
Identifying a Heroin Abuse Problem: Paraphernalia
No matter how it started, identifying a heroin problem early and connecting people with the treatment they need can save lives. The general public often holds the view that heroin users use needles to inject the drug, but the fact is that while injection use is one common form of heroin abuse, many smoke the drug as well. Often, new heroin users opt to smoke the substance rather than inject it and thus maintain a recreational relationship with the substance for longer. This means that track marks and cook kits are not the only signs of heroin abuse; glass pipes, too, can be used to smoke the substance.
Additionally, the black tar version of heroin is more common on the West Coast, while on the East Coast, heroin may be a white or brownish powder. The sticky black tar version is often sold in tiny piece of plastic wrap while the powder version may be sold in small, clear, re-sealable bags.
Identifying a Heroin Abuse Problem: Effects
Nodding out, small pupils, decreased ability to carry on a conversation or move quickly, and runny nose – these are signs of being under the influence of heroin, whether the person injects the drug or smokes it.
Additionally, there are larger effects of heroin abuse that permeate a person’s life far longer than the physical effects of a single high. You may notice that your loved one is struggling with:
- Interpersonal issues with old friends
- Problems at work due to an inability to keep up with responsibilities
- Financial struggles due to an inability to maintain employment or pay for drugs
- Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
The signs of heroin abuse may be subtle at first, but if regular use of the drug becomes an issue, it won’t take long for addiction to develop. The signs above will become more prominent, and even if it is apparent to the user that heroin use has caused negative changes in his life, he will be unable to stop using without experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin Detox Options
There are a number of different detox options for patients who are ready to stop using heroin. Though each patient’s situation is different, some possibilities include:
- Medication-assisted detox: Use of medications like buprenorphine and methadone can help to make the physical withdrawal symptoms less intense or wipe them out almost completely in some cases. Over time, the managed dose is stepped down slowly until the patient is drug-free.
- “Cold turkey” detox: Using no medication whatsoever, patients do experience physical withdrawal symptoms, but the detox experience is over within a few weeks rather than dragging on for months or even years with medication.
- Medically supervised detox: Patients can choose to undergo detox in a medical setting and receive non-addictive medications on an as-needed basis designed to address specific symptoms and ease the discomfort of a cold turkey detox.
If heroin abuse or addiction is a problem for someone you love, early identification of the problem and immediate treatment are recommended.