Heroin Addiction in America
The tragic death of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on February 2, 2014 made headlines around the world and sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Hoffman’s apparent overdose on heroin calls attention to an alarming surge in heroin addiction throughout the U.S. that has spiked to an epidemic level.
“[Heroin use] is starting, especially in younger individuals — young adults, kids even — with prescription painkillers,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears explains. “Those prescriptions are getting harder and harder to get now, but heroin is easier and cheaper to get than the painkillers, so people are moving over to that.”
Heroin is a synthetic opiate made from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the poppy plant. The powerful narcotic is one of the most highly addictive substances in existence. Users are often hooked from their first experience with the drug, and in many cases, one-time use results in death.
Pure heroin appears as a white, crystalline powder. Due to impurities, however, illicit heroin can range from a white to dark brown powder to a black, tar-like substance. This low-purity black tar heroin is typically dissolved, diluted and injected, while higher purity heroin is commonly snorted or smoked.
Once in the body, heroin binds to opioid receptor sites in the brain, which are responsible for the sensations of pain and pleasure, as well as automatic bodily functions like breathing and blood pressure. Chronic use of heroin causes physical dependence, and has deleterious effects on every organ in the body.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 1 in every 4 heroin users will relapse after going through rehab.
“Heroin is one of the hardest [drugs] to get off of, because you have to deal with the underlying issues, and it’s easier for a heroin addict to numb it out,” says addiction and intervention specialist Ken Seeley. “The cravings can go away, but the disease never goes away. I think the most important thing for the families [of heroin addicts] is if you see a relapse happen, take immediate action. Get some professional help to intervene, if they’re not willing to get the help themselves. Don’t let them die. A hundred people a day in this country are dying from this disease.”
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