Last year, over 4 million prescriptions for painkillers were written in Tennessee. By now, many of us are aware of the growing opioid epidemic in this region of the United States. Opioids, or painkillers, are very effective for short-term pain management. Unfortunately, anyone who takes them long-term risks forming a dangerous dependence on them. Thankfully, physicians are aware of this. They work hard to make sure their patients are given the correct dosage for the correct amount of time in order to avoid addiction.
Opioids like heroin, however, are exempt from a doctor’s supervision. Heroin is illegal, meaning it’s not regulated or prescribed. People start taking heroin for a multitude of reasons, and many of them don’t realize how dangerous it can be. A single dose can cause an overdose, and depending on how it’s used, it can cause a plethora of other unpleasant heroin side effects, as well.
At ReVIDA® Recovery, we take substance use seriously because we’ve seen too many lose their lives to it. If you or someone you love has been using heroin, it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Let’s talk about how heroin is taken and what it does to your body in today’s blog.
How Is Heroin Taken?
Most opioids can be found in the form of tablets or pills, but heroin is the exception. It is extracted from the poppy plant and usually looks like a white or brown powder after processing. White powdered heroin goes through a lengthy purification process, while brown powder is considered “less pure.” It also comes in the form of a sticky black substance that many refer to as “black tar heroin.” Depending on the type of heroin someone obtains, they can either smoke, snort, sniff, or inject it.
Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this. Individuals who have used heroin usually describe it as the feeling of being happy, carefree, weightless, and relaxed. It isn’t to attain feelings like those – especially if someone is managing trauma or a mental health condition. Thus, many return to heroin because of the feelings it elicits without stopping to deeply consider its impact on their lives moving forward.
What Effects Does Heroin Have on the Body?
Heroin attaches to our opioid receptors, which are located all over the body including in the brain and stomach. Regular use of heroin can alter our natural dopamine responses, meaning things that used to feel good (like sex, eating, or exercise) no longer bring joy or pleasure. When the body becomes used to the presence of heroin, it goes through withdrawals without it. These heroin withdrawals can be uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous for some. Additionally, heroin impacts the stomach lining along with major organs like the kidneys and liver.
A common misconception is that it’s possible to avoid heroin dependence based on the method by which you consume it. Some believe that smoking heroin makes it easier to stop, but this is a myth. It doesn’t matter how heroin is taken. Each method of use comes with its own set of risks.
The Risks of Smoking Heroin
When someone is smoking heroin, they’re inhaling a number of irritants and chemicals. Remember, heroin isn’t regulated, which means there is no way of knowing what it has been cut or mixed with. Dealers will always use a cutting agent (a foreign substance like sugar or cornstarch) when getting ready to sell heroin because it helps them stretch out their inventory.
When smoked, heroin impacts both the respiratory system and lungs, causing breathing complications, central nervous system damage, and reduced lung function. It also makes people more prone to infections like pneumonia because it can decrease the functionality of the immune system.
The Risks of Injecting Heroin
The largest known risk of injecting heroin is the diseases that can come from needle sharing. Hepatitis B, C, and HIV/AIDS are all possible with this method of use. Harm-reduction programs, like safe needle exchanges, have been emerging in popularity over the years. If you or someone you care about is injecting heroin and are unable to stop, consider finding a local syringe services program (SSP) near you. Injecting heroin can also cause sores and infections at the injection site, itchy skin, and collapsed or scarred veins.
The Risk of Snorting Heroin
Snorting heroin is damaging to the nasal passages – particularly the mucus membranes. Inflammation in this area can cause chronic sinus issues. It can also create a hole in the nasal septum. Similar to smoking and injecting heroin, snorting heroin can damage the immune system and make people more prone to infection. It can also cause lung and respiratory issues, just like smoking.
With all of these methods of heroin use, the largest and most inevitable side effect is the possibility of a heroin overdose. Dealers will sometimes mix more powerful opioids, like fentanyl, into heroin to make their inventory last longer. A tiny amount of fentanyl can make someone feel the same effects that a larger amount of heroin would. Unfortunately, when people think they’re taking heroin and it’s really fentanyl, the risk of overdose increases tenfold. Overdose can also happen when heroin is mixed with other substances, like alcohol.
Getting Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder
At ReVIDA® Recovery, we have seen firsthand how effective evidence-based heroin addiction treatment can be. If you’re feeling like it’s impossible to stop using heroin, you aren’t alone. Countless others have been where you are and have found a way to heal. The safest and most effective way to find healing from an opioid use disorder is through evidence-based, compassionate care. We offer the kind of tailored support and treatment you and your loved ones need to move forward into a meaningful life of recovery.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
While you’re here for MAT, you’ll be closely monitored by a compassionate and knowledgeable staff. Medications are available that can help in alleviating heroin withdrawal symptoms and guiding you safely into recovery. You’ll also have access to resources that can help you on your journey moving forward, including individual counseling, group counseling, and support groups. In an MAT program, we use medications alongside traditional therapy to guide you away from opioids and into a healthy life of recovery.
You’ll also have the option to move forward with our outpatient treatment program. If a higher level of care is warranted, we will provide referrals for a local inpatient or residential treatment program. Your clinician will go over all of your options to set you up for success.
Suboxone® (Buprenorphine) Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a safe and evidence-based way to treat OUD. At ReVIDA® Recovery, we support the use of Suboxone® (buprenorphine) because it has been proven to reduce cravings while working to prevent relapse. To receive Suboxone® (buprenorphine) treatment, you will have to be opioid-free for 24 hours.
Outpatient Rehab Services
We believe that both individual and group therapy are critical components in the treatment of OUD – especially if you’re looking for long-term recovery. This is a safe and supportive space where you will learn how to manage your triggers and create healthy coping mechanisms. Our behavioral healthcare team is composed of licensed therapists, certified counselors, care coordinators, and peer recovery specialists who are standing by and ready to help. If we can treat your heroin addiction where it started, at its roots, your chance of recovery is greater than if we were to simply treat your withdrawal symptoms.
At ReVIDA® Recovery, we’re standing by to help you reclaim your life from heroin. Recovery is possible, and you can start your journey to wellness whenever you’re ready. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, please call us today at 423-631-0432.
Who uses heroin?
There is no age group that is exempt from heroin use. While the average heroin user is in their 20s and 30s, people of all ages, professions, and personalities can form an addiction to heroin.
What street names does heroin go by?
Heroin goes by street names like black tar, china white, snow, white nurse, dope, brown sugar, skunk, and many more.
What is the statistics of heroin used in the United States?
Almost 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin in 2020. The number of deaths caused by heroin has increased to almost 7x more than in 1999.